What is it about?

An area of intense research interest is how hurricanes respond to large changes in Earth’s climate. Much of this research has been focused on studying the behavior of these storms in future warmer climates. Here, we provide a unique compliment to these studies by investigating hurricanes in simulations of the much colder Last Glacial Maximum (the last major ice age) in comparison to the modern 20th Century. Despite the oceans being much colder during the last ice age, we found that this climate state can produce hurricanes in all places of the world where they exist today. However, the average intensity of hurricanes was much lower in simulations of the ice age period than in that of modern 20th century climate. Additionally, the middle of hurricane season shifted to be about a week earlier in the ice age. Results were much more mixed on a regional scale (that is, in different parts of each ocean basin), highlighting the sensitivity of hurricanes to local changes in climate.

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Why is it important?

This is the first global set of hurricanes produced for simulations of the Last Glacial Maximum (last ice age). Our results support studies of future warming that suggest the average intensity of hurricanes increase in warmer climates, and vice versa. Despite this, conditions during the last major ice age still could have supported hurricanes in the same regions they occur in modern times -- just less frequently. Ultimately, our results from the colder ice age provide a novel opportunity to assess how tropical cyclones respond to climate changes.


I particularly enjoyed working on this project as it is a good example of the complexities of how hurricanes respond to climate. I think it is fascinating that strong hurricanes likely still occurred during the last ice age, even if they occurred less frequency. I imagine hurricanes aren't what most people think about when they think of ice ages!

Quinton Lawton
University of Miami

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Tropical cyclones downscaled from simulations of the Last Glacial Maximum, Journal of Climate, October 2020, American Meteorological Society,
DOI: 10.1175/jcli-d-20-0409.1.
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