News Section
Stories from Climate Central's Science Journalists and Content Partners

Global Warming May Shift Summer Weather Patterns

By altering the heat balance between land and sea, manmade global warming may be altering summer weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, a new study found. The study, published on Sept. 30 in Nature Geoscience, shows that the sprawling high pressure areas that set up shop over the Western North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans during the summer months have become larger and stronger during the past 40 years, and these trends are likely to continue during the next several decades as temperatures increase.

These changing weather patterns could have far-reaching impacts, from redirecting powerful hurricanes toward the East Coast, to making the Southeast and Central states see-saw more frequently between extremely hot and dry summers and cooler, wetter summers. In addition, a shift in the strength and shape of the North Pacific subtropical high could affect the South Asian Monsoon, which is already being altered by warming and increased regional pollution. 

The Bermuda High helps steer tropical storms and hurricanes.
Credit: Penn State.

The study does not formally attribute the cause of the recent trends, but says that the future changes will most likely be driven by global warming.

Although highs (the big "H" symbols on your local TV weathercast) are typically associated with pleasant weather, the position and shape of these systems shape large-scale weather patterns, helping to determine the locations of subtropical deserts. More importantly for the U.S., they help steer the most powerful storms on Earth, and modulate rainfall amounts in the Central, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic states.

The Atlantic subtropical high, more commonly known as the “Bermuda High” because of its semi-permanent location near that Western Atlantic island during the summer months, helps determine whether Atlantic hurricanes recurve harmlessly out to sea before reaching the East Coast, or make landfall with potentially devastating impacts.

Hurricanes tend to skirt around the edges of the high by catching a ride on the clockwise flow of air around the periphery.

The Bermuda High also helps draw warm and humid air up the Eastern seaboard, contributing to some of the most intense heatwaves on record.

The study, which relies on climate model simulations as well as weather data for the past 40 years, shows that the Bermuda High has already expanded westward, which could be making summertime rainfall in the Central and Southeast U.S. much more variable.

Summer rainfall in the Southeast U.S. has become more variable in recent years, as this graphic shows. 
Credit: Dan Satterfield/AGU.

“The intensification and westward movement of the subtropical highs may cause more landfalling hurricanes/typhoons and cause more intense Southeast U.S. rainfall variability, leading to more extreme events in the[se] regions,” said coauthor Mingfang Ting of Columbia University in an email conversation.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Climate found that a westward shift in the Bermuda High helped cause a marked increase in the frequency of summers with “strongly anomalous precipitation” in the Southeast. Recent summers have seen dramatic flips between punishing droughts and severe flooding in states such as Georgia, for example.

According to the research of Ting and her colleagues, the sharpened temperature contrast between land areas and the oceans, which is related to manmade global warming, is the main mechanism behind the intensifying and expanding Highs.

“... In the future warming scenario, we show that this pattern is intensifying, and land and ocean heat contrasts are intensifying. This leads to the intensification of the anticyclones,” Ting said.

In the Pacific, the consequences of the intensifying and expanding subtropical high could be just as serious, considering that the high helps regulate the South Asian Monsoon season, which provides vital water for irrigating crops.

Related coverage 
Drought Conditions Recede Slightly Across U.S. 
Arctic Warming is Altering Weather Patterns, Study Shows 
Southeast Rainfall More Variable As Climate Warms 
Will Our Luck Run Out? Major Hurricane Gap in U.S.

 

 

Comments

By Linda Evans (Hollywood, Florida 33020)
on October 10th, 2012

I follow articles on the web concerning global warming. I have noticed a lot more “may be’s” in the titles. Global may be this and global warming may be that. I even read about the absolute changes and even with all this the denier force is out there saying it ain’t so. I’m afraid that it is such a large problem to tackle and folks are directly or indirectly making so much money on fossil fuels that it is so hard to leave the coal/oil in the ground as Dr. Hansen states. It’s like telling Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree.

Reply to this comment

By Otter (Ontario, Canada )
on October 10th, 2012

Two quick questions:

1) How much has CO2 gone up in the past 7 years?

2) How many major hurricanes have struck Anywhere in the US, in the past 7 years?

Reply to this comment

By VPK (Malden, Mass 02148)
on October 11th, 2012

Otter, that is a very tint time frame you are setting for yourself. Convenient you didn’t use past ten years for the hurricanes…we would ahve included Katrina. Also, all the tangible evidence is here regarding warming, paleoclimatic records (ancient earth past), modern records (verified by the Richard Muller team), changes in specie movement (USDA moved the plant hardiness map northward!), record Arctic/glacier ice melt, ocean acidification ph change, ect. So cherry pick all you want, chemistry and physics are at work here. the climate system is vast and eventually you will accept the sound science (or maybe you grandchildren will).

Reply to this comment

By Lindsay Harmon
on October 11th, 2012

@otter

CO2 has risen approx. 14.4ppm in the past 7 years (376.66ppm, recorded September 2005 to 391.05ppm, recorded September 2012)

As for hurricanes, 4 major storms (Category 3 or higher) have struck the U.S. in the past 7 years, Rita (3), Wilma (3), Katrina (3), Dennis (3) all in 2005.

Reply to this comment

By elysummers (89315)
on October 18th, 2012

I’m not saying it isn’t our fault,  but in the end Mother Nature will reign supreme, people be damned.

Reply to this comment

By Charles Winter (Washington DC 20008)
on October 18th, 2012

What is a major hurricane? Irene was a category 1 storm, but still caused major flooding damage in several states on the East Coast.

Reply to this comment

By Lindsay Harmon
on October 19th, 2012

@Charles,

According to the National Hurricane Center, a major hurricane is a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 111 mph (96 knots) or higher, corresponding to a Category 3, 4 or 5.

So though Irene was certainly note-worthy, and was a Category 3 as it spun off the coast, it became a Category 1 (as you mention) when it struck the Outer Banks, which is why I did not include it in my comment above.

Here is a complete list of continental U.S. landfalling hurricanes and their category: http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/E23.html

Reply to this comment

By William Doss (evansville in 47715)
on January 29th, 2014

Yes, very nice more empirical evidence for taxation. yes global warming… Or the new phrase “climate change” every event proves and nothing can disprove…ah yes the empirical evidence. Loving the knowledge. Loving the knowledge

Reply to this comment

Name (required):
Email (required):
City/State/Zip:
Enter the word "climate" in the box below:

[+] View our comment guidelines.

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until reviewed by Climate Central staff. Thank you for your patience.