Biogeographical shifts are a ubiquitous global response to climate change. However, observed shifts across taxa and geographical locations are highly variable and only partially attributable to climatic conditions. Such variable outcomes result from the interaction between local climatic changes and other abiotic and biotic factors operating across species ranges. Among them, external directional forces such as ocean and air currents influence the dispersal of nearly all marine and many terrestrial organisms. Here, using a global meta-dataset of observed range shifts of marine species, we show that incorporating directional agreement between flow and climate significantly increases the proportion of explained variance. We propose a simple metric that measures the degrees of directional agreement of ocean (or air) currents with thermal gradients and considers the effects of directional forces in predictions of climate-driven range shifts. Ocean flows are found to both facilitate and hinder shifts depending on their directional agreement with spatial gradients of temperature. Further, effects are shaped by the locations of shifts in the range (trailing, leading or centroid) and taxonomic identity of species. These results support the global effects of climatic changes on distribution shifts and stress the importance of framing climate expectations in reference to other non-climatic interacting factors.