Temporally inconsistent and potentially unreliable global historical data hinder the detection of trends in tropical cyclone activity. This limits our confidence in evaluating proposed linkages between observed trends in tropical cyclones and in the environment. Here we mitigate this difficulty by focusing on a metric that is comparatively insensitive to past data uncertainty, and identify a pronounced poleward migration in the average latitude at which tropical cyclones have achieved their lifetime-maximum intensity over the past 30 years.

A recently developed technique for simulating large [O(104)] numbers of tropical cyclones in climate states described by global gridded data is applied to simulations of historical and future climate states simulated by six Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) global climate models. Tropical cyclones downscaled from the climate of the period 1950–2005 are compared with those of the 21st century in simulations that stipulate that the radiative forcing from greenhouse gases increases by Formula over preindustrial values.