Modality of the Tropical Rain Belt across Models and Simulated Climates

Ori Adam*, Alexander Farnsworth, Daniel J. Lunt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The tropical rain belt varies between unimodal and bimodal meridional precipitation distributions, both regionally and on seasonal to geological time scales. Here we show that this variation is largely driven by equatorial precipitation inhibition, and quantify it using an equatorial modality index (EMI) that varies continuously between 1 and 2 for purely unimodal and bimodal distributions. We show that tropical modality is a fundamental characteristic of tropical climate, which we define as annual-mean EMI. We examine large-scale aspects of tropical modality across 73 climate models from phases 5 and 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, 45 paleo simulations (;300 million years ago to present), and observations. We find increased tropical modality to be strongly related to increased width of the tropical rain belt, wider and weaker meridional overturning circulation, colder equatorial cold tongues, and more severe double intertropical convergence zone bias in modern climate models. Tropical sectors (or global zonal means) with low tropical modality are characterized by monsoonal seasonal variations (i.e., seasonal migrations of rainbands following the sun). In sectors with high tropical modality we identify three important seasonal modes: (i) migration of the precipitation distribution toward the warmer hemisphere, (ii) variation in the latitudinal separation between hemispheric rainbands, and (iii) seesaw variation in the intensity of the hemispheric rainbands. In high tropical modality sectors, due to contrasting shifts of the migration and separation modes, counter to general wisdom, seasonal migrations of tropical rainbands cannot be generally assumed to follow the sun.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1331-1345
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Meteorological Society.


  • Atmosphere
  • Atmospheric circulation
  • Climate models
  • Climatology
  • Hadley circulation
  • Precipitation


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