Climate Dynamics

, Volume 41, Issue 3–4, pp 787–802 | Cite as

Midlatitude storms in a moister world: lessons from idealized baroclinic life cycle experiments

  • James F. BoothEmail author
  • Shuguang Wang
  • Lorenzo Polvani


The response of midlatitude storms to global warming remains uncertain. This is due, in part, to the competing effects of a weaker meridional surface temperature gradient and a higher low-level moisture content, both of which are projected to occur as a consequence of increasing greenhouse gases. Here we address the latter of these two effects, and try to elucidate the effect of increased moisture on the development and evolution of midlatitude storms. We do this with a set of highly controlled, baroclinic lifecycle experiments, in which atmospheric moisture is progressively increased. To assess the robustness of the results, the moisture content is changed in two different ways: first by using different initial relative humidity, and second by varying a parameter that we insert into the Clausius-Clapeyron equation. The latter method allows us to artificially increase the moisture content above current levels while keeping the relative humidity constant. Irrespective of how moisture is altered, we find that nearly all important measures of storm strength increase as the moisture content rises. Specifically, we examine the storm’s central pressure minimum, the strongest surface winds, and both extreme and accumulated precipitation rates. For all these metrics, increased moisture yields a stronger storm. Interestingly, we also find that when moisture is increased beyond current levels, the resulting storm has a reduced horizontal scale while its vertical extent increases. Finally, we note that for moisture increases comparable to those projected to occur by the end of the twentyfirst century, the actual amplitude of the increases in storm strength is relatively modest, irrespective of the specific measure one uses.


Midlatitude storms Baroclinic Life cycles Global warming Moisture 



We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling groups (listed in the Sect. Appendix) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the U.S. Department of Energy’s PCMDU provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. The work of LMP is funded, in part, by a grant from the US National Science Foundation. The work of JFB is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) postdoctoral program. SW thanks Jian Lu for discussions of experiment design at earlier phase. We thank Heini Wernli and an anonymous reviewer for useful suggestions that helped to clarify the presentation of the main points of this work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James F. Booth
    • 1
    Email author
  • Shuguang Wang
    • 2
  • Lorenzo Polvani
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.NASA Goddard Institute for Space StudiesNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Applied Physics and Applied MathematicsColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lamont Doherty Earth ObservatoryColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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