Tropical cyclones (TCs) can have severe impacts on Australia. These include extreme rainfall and winds, and coastal hazards such as destructive waves, storm surges, estuarine flooding, and coastal erosion. Various aspects of TCs in the Australian region have been documented over the past several decades. In recent years, increasing emphasis has been placed on human-induced climate change effects on TCs in the Australian region and elsewhere around the globe. However, large natural variability and the lack of consistent long-term TC observations have often complicated the detection and attribution of TC trends. Efforts have been made to improve TC records for Australia over the past decades, but it is still unclear whether such records are sufficient to provide better understanding of the impacts of natural climate variability and climate change. It is important to note that the damage costs associated with tropical cyclones in Australia have increased in recent decades and will continue to increase due to growing coastal settlement and infrastructure development. Therefore, it is critical that any coastal infrastructure planning and engineering decisions, as well as disaster management decisions, strongly consider future risks from tropical cyclones. A better understanding of tropical cyclones in a changing climate will provide key insights that can help mitigate impacts of tropical cyclones on vulnerable communities. An objective assessment of the Australian TCs at regional scale and its link with climate variability and change using improved and up-to-date data records is more imperative now than before. This article is categorized under: Paleoclimates and Current Trends > Modern Climate Change.
A recently validated algorithm for detecting and tracking tropical cyclones (TCs) in coarse resolution climate models was applied to a selected group of 12 models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) to assess potential changes in TC track characteristics in the Southern Hemisphere (SH) due to greenhouse warming. Current-climate simulations over the period 1970–2000 are first evaluated against observations using measures of TC genesis location and frequency, as well as track trajectory and lifetime in seven objectively defined genesis regions. The 12-model (12-M) ensemble showed substantial skill in reproducing a realistic TC climatology over the evaluation period. To address potential biases associated with model interdependency, analyses were repeated with an ensemble of five independent models (5-M). Results from both the 12-M and 5-M ensembles were very similar, instilling confidence in the models for climate projections if the current TC-climate relationship is to remain stationary. Projected changes in TC track density between the current- and future-climate (2070–2100) simulations under the Representatives Concentration 8.5 Pathways (RCP8.5) are also assessed. Overall, projection results showed a substantial decrease (~ 1–3 per decade) in track density over most parts of the SH by the end of the twenty-first century. This decrease is attributed to a significant reduction in TC numbers (~ 15–42%) consistent with changes in large-scale environmental parameters such as relative vorticity, environmental vertical wind shear and relative humidity. This study may assist with adaption pathways and implications for regional-scale climate change for vulnerable regions in the SH.