Dynamical seasonal predictions of tropical cyclone activity: Roles of sea surface temperature errors and atmosphere-land initialization

Gan Zhang, Hiroyuki Murakami, Xiaosong Yang, Kirsten L. Findell, Andrew T. Wittenberg, Liwei Jia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate models often show errors in simulating and predicting tropical cyclone (TC) activity, but the sources of these errors are not well understood. This study proposes an evaluation framework and analyzes three sets of experiments conducted using a seasonal prediction model developed at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). These experiments apply the nudging technique to the model integration and/or initialization to estimate possible improvements from nearly perfect model conditions. The results suggest that reducing sea surface temperature (SST) errors remains important for better predicting TC activity at long forecast leads-even in a flux-adjusted model with reduced climatological biases. Other error sources also contribute to biases in simulated TC activity, with notable manifestations on regional scales. A novel finding is that the coupling and initialization of the land and atmosphere components can affect seasonal TC prediction skill. Simulated year-to-year variations in June land conditions over North America show a significant lead correlation with the North Atlantic large-scale environment and TC activity. Improved land-atmosphere initialization appears to improve the Atlantic TC predictions initialized in some summer months. For short-lead predictions initialized in June, the potential skill improvements attributable to land-atmosphere initialization might be comparable to those achievable with perfect SST predictions. Overall, this study delineates the SST and non-oceanic error sources in predicting TC activity and highlights avenues for improving predictions. The nudging-based evaluation framework can be applied to other models and help improve predictions of other weather extremes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1743-1766
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmosphere-land interaction
  • Atmosphere-ocean interaction
  • Climate prediction
  • Coupled models
  • Model evaluation/performance
  • Tropical cyclones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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