IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Extratropical Storms and Ocean Wave Height

The TAR noted that there could be a future tendency for more intense extratropical storms, although the number of storms could be less. A more consistent result that has emerged more recently, in agreement with earlier results (e.g., Schubert et al., 1998), is a tendency for a poleward shift of several degrees latitude in mid-latitude storm tracks in both hemispheres (Geng and Sugi, 2003; Fischer-Bruns et al., 2005; Yin, 2005; Bengtsson et al., 2006). Consistent with these shifts in storm track activity, Cassano et al. (2006), using a 10-member multi-model ensemble, show a future change to a more cyclonically dominated circulation pattern in winter and summer over the Arctic, and increasing cyclonicity and stronger westerlies in the same multi-model ensemble for the Antarctic (Lynch et al., 2006).

Some studies have shown little change in extratropical cyclone characteristics (Kharin and Zwiers, 2005; Watterson, 2005). But a regional study showed a tendency towards more intense systems, particularly in the A2 scenario in another global coupled climate model analysis (Leckebusch and Ulbrich, 2004), with more extreme wind events in association with those deepened cyclones for several regions of Western Europe, with similar changes in the B2 simulation although less pronounced in amplitude. Geng and Sugi (2003) use a higher-resolution (about 100 km resolution) atmospheric GCM (AGCM) with time-slice experiments and find a decrease in cyclone density (number of cyclones in a 4.5° by 4.5° area per season) in the mid-latitudes of both hemispheres in a warmer climate in both the DJF and JJA seasons, associated with the changes in the baroclinicity in the lower troposphere, in general agreement with earlier results and coarser GCM results (e.g., Dai et al., 2001b). They also find that the density of strong cyclones increases while the density of weak and medium-strength cyclones decreases. Several studies have shown a possible reduction in mid-latitude storms in the NH but a decrease in central pressures in these storms (Lambert and Fyfe, 2006, for a 15-member multi-model ensemble) and in the SH (Fyfe, 2003, with a possible 30% reduction in sub-antarctic cyclones). The latter two studies did not definitively identify a poleward shift of storm tracks, but their methodologies used a relatively coarse grid that may not have been able to detect shifts of several degrees latitude and they used only identification of central pressures which could imply an identification of semi-permanent features like the sub-antarctic trough. More regional aspects of these changes were addressed for the NH in a single model study by Inatsu and Kimoto (2005), who show a more active storm track in the western Pacific in the future but weaker elsewhere. Fischer-Bruns et al. (2005) document storm activity increasing over the North Atlantic and Southern Ocean and decreasing over the Pacific Ocean.

By analysing stratosphere-troposphere exchanges using time-slice experiments with the middle atmosphere version of ECHAM4, Land and Feichter (2003) suggest that cyclonic and blocking activity becomes weaker poleward of 30°N in a warmer climate at least in part due to decreased baroclinicity below 400 hPa, while cyclonic activity becomes stronger in the SH associated with increased baroclinicity above 400 hPa. The atmospheric circulation variability on inter-decadal time scales may also change due to increasing greenhouse gases and aerosols. One model result (Hu et al., 2001) showed that inter-decadal variability of the SLP and 500 hPa height fields increased over the tropics and decreased at high latitudes due to global warming.

In summary, the most consistent results from the majority of the current generation of models show, for a future warmer climate, a poleward shift of storm tracks in both hemispheres that is particularly evident in the SH, with greater storm activity at higher latitudes.

A new feature that has been studied related to extreme conditions over the oceans is wave height. Studies by Wang et al. (2004), Wang and Swail (2006a,b) and Caires et al. (2006) have shown that for many regions of the mid-latitude oceans, an increase in extreme wave height is likely to occur in a future warmer climate. This is related to increased wind speed associated with mid-latitude storms, resulting in higher waves produced by these storms, and is consistent with the studies noted above that showed decreased numbers of mid-latitude storms but more intense storms.