EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Combining global-scale atmospheric heat transport and synoptic-scale extratropical cyclone characteristics to understand the role of latent heating for midlatitude storm tracks

Jan Zibell, Sebastian Schemm, and Alejandro Hermoso Verger
Jan Zibell et al.
  • ETH Zürich, Atmospheric and Climate Science, Environmental Systems Science, Switzerland (

    Poleward atmospheric energy transport is determined by the overall equator-to-pole radiative imbalance. As this imbalance is projected to remain fairly constant in end-of-century greenhouse gas forcing scenarios, an increase in poleward latent heat transport must be accompanied by a reduction in dry static energy flux. Since midlatitude energy transport is dominated by the eddy component, changes in the energy budget go hand in hand with changes in cyclone characteristics. From a dynamical perspective, the enhanced condensation due to climate change promotes intensification, prolongs lifetime of cyclones, and can increase stationarity of anticyclones. However, it also tends to increase static stability and thereby reduce baroclinicity, which is another important driver of cyclone development. Additionally, baroclinicity is projected to increase at upper levels due to tropical amplification, to decrease at low levels as a result of Arctic amplification, and to be affected by land-sea temperature contrast changes. As these processes are at play simultaneously, isolating the role of moisture is rather complicated. Therefore, in addition to coupled climate model simulations we use idealized aquaplanet simulations to single out the effects of individual physical mechanisms and address the question: if the overall poleward energy transport remains largely unaffected by global warming, how do cyclone characteristics change in the presence of increased moisture in the atmosphere?

    For bridging the gap between the global energy flux and synoptic-scale features, we analyse the role of increasing moisture for shaping midlatitude storm tracks in present and future climates from both an Eulerian and a Lagrangian perspective. We apply the moist static energy (MSE) framework that allows partitioning atmospheric energy fluxes into eddy and mean, dry and moist components. Here, eddies are related to cyclones and anticyclones, while the mean energy flux is associated with planetary waves and the mean meridional overturning circulation. The goal is to relate the eddy MSE fluxes to feature-based results including extratropical cyclone number, lifetime, intensity, location, and tilt. By combining results from both global-scale eddy energy fluxes and synoptic-scale feature quantities, we aim to improve the understanding of the role of latent heating in shaping the mean properties of extratropical storm tracks. Therefore, a central question of this project is whether and how changes in cyclone quantities can be linked to changes in latent heat transport and release. Building on what we learn from bringing the two perspectives together, we will proceed to investigating the impact of increased latent heating on midlatitude storm tracks. 

How to cite: Zibell, J., Schemm, S., and Hermoso Verger, A.: Combining global-scale atmospheric heat transport and synoptic-scale extratropical cyclone characteristics to understand the role of latent heating for midlatitude storm tracks, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-7216,, 2023.

Supplementary materials

Supplementary material file