20 Jul 2022
20 Jul 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal WCD.

Warm conveyor belts in present-day and future climate simulations. Part II: Role of potential vorticity production for cyclone intensification

Hanin Binder, Hanna Joos, Michael Sprenger, and Heini Wernli Hanin Binder et al.
  • Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. Warm conveyor belts (WCBs) are strongly ascending, cloud and precipitation forming airstreams in extratropical cyclones. The intense cloud-diabatic processes produce low-level cyclonic potential vorticity (PV) along the ascending airstreams, which often contribute to the intensification of the associated cyclone. This study investigates how climate change affects the cyclones' WCB strength and the importance of WCB-related diabatic PV production for cyclone intensification, based on present-day (1990–1999) and future (2091–2100) climate simulations of the Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble (CESM-LE). In each period, a large number of cyclones and their associated WCB trajectories have been identified in both hemispheres during the winter season. Compared to ERA-Interim reanalyses, the present-day climate simulations are able to capture the cyclone structure and the associated WCBs remarkably well, which gives confidence in future projections with CESM-LE. The comparison of the simulations reveals an increase in the WCB strength and the cyclone intensification rate in the Southern Hemisphere (SH) in the future climate. The WCB strength also increases in the Northern Hemisphere (NH), but to a smaller degree, and the cyclone intensification rate is not projected to change considerably. Hence, in the two hemispheres cyclone intensification responds differently to an increase in WCB strength, which however is consistent with the opposite changes in near-surface baroclinicity expected with rising temperatures. Indeed, baroclinicity is expected to increase in the SH, which interacts positively with the direct effects of enhanced WCB-related diabatic heating to produce stronger cyclones, whereas it is expected to decrease in the NH, which counteracts the effects of the moist processes in the WCB ascent. Cyclone deepening correlates positively with the intensity of the associated WCB, with a Spearman correlation coefficient of 0.68 (0.66) in the NH in the present-day (future) simulations, and a coefficient of 0.51 (0.55) in the SH. The number of explosive cyclones with strong WCBs, referred to as C1 cyclones, is projected to increase in both hemispheres, while the number of explosive cyclones with weak WCBs (C3 cyclones) is projected to decrease. A composite analysis reveals that in the future climate C1 cyclones will be associated with even stronger WCBs, more WCB-related diabatic PV production, the formation of a more intense PV tower, and an increase in precipitation. They will become warmer, moister, and slightly more intense. The findings indicate that (i) cyclones will be more diabatic in a warmer climate, (ii) WCB-related PV production will be even more important for explosive cyclone intensification than in the present-day climate, and (iii) the interplay between dry and moist dynamics is crucial to understand how climate change affects cyclone intensification.

Hanin Binder et al.

Status: open (until 31 Aug 2022)

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Hanin Binder et al.

Hanin Binder et al.


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Short summary
Warm conveyor belts (WCBs) are the main cloud and precipitation producing airstreams in extratropical cyclones. The latent heat release that occurs during cloud formation often contributes to the intensification of the associated cyclone. Based on CESM-LE coupled climate simulations, here we show that WCBs and the associated latent heating will become stronger in a future climate and be even more important for explosive cyclone intensification than in the present-day climate.