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State of the Science on Tropical Cyclone Frequency


A new review paper, published in the Earth’s Future journal, presents the state of the science on tropical cyclone frequency and suggests research directions for the future. The study, funded in part by CPO’s Climate Observations and Monitoring (COM) and Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) programs, states what scientists already know and what remains to be figured out regarding the fundamental question: will a tropical cyclone (aka hurricane or typhoon) occur or not?

On average there are about 80 tropical cyclones a year. The question scientists ask is: why 80? Will this number increase or decrease as the planet warms? Existing theories, the review notes, cannot fully explain or predict tropical cyclone frequency. In the absence of theory, numerical models are the primary tool by which scientists can investigate why and how tropical cyclones occur as often as they do and how that might change in the future.

In this review, the authors discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and different ways of using such models to investigate tropical cyclone frequency. Two promising avenues of insight include studying idealized simulations, where the planet is made simpler than it really is, and investigating the “seeds’ ‘ or precursor disturbances that sometimes strengthen into tropical cyclones. 

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