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Open Access Publications from the University of California

On the potential impact of a half-degree warming on cold and warm temperature extremes in mid-latitude North America


This study focuses on potential impacts of climate change on the early spring (March-April) temperature and its extremes in the mid-latitudes of North America, discriminated between the 1.5 °C and 2 °C levels of global warming, as projected by a suit of numerical experiments. The results suggest relatively mild seasonal average warming (0.25 °C-1.5 °C), but also an intensification of both warm and cold temperature extremes. The derived changes feature much stronger warming over the West of the United States and weak to no warming to the East, which is congruent with the ventilating effect of the intensified northerly wind over central Canada and the East of the United States. The intensified northerly component of the mid-latitude jet is likely a contributing factor to the derived increased seasonal variability of March-April temperatures over parts of Manitoba and Ontario in Canada, and the Midwest of the United States. The projected changes in temperature extremes agree to some extent with the previous studies: Warm extremes intensify especially over southern mid-latitudes, while cold extremes are weakening over the north mid-to high-latitudes. However, high-resolution simulations with the Community Atmospheric Model 5 (CAM5) indicate much sharper spatial gradients, which translate into higher magnitudes and also more complex patterns of changes. Particularly, cold extremes feature not only reductions north of ∼45°N latitudes, but also a very strong intensification of cold extremes (by-4 °C for 20 year return values) in the band 25°-45°N, centered in the Midwest of the United States. While general warming and intensification of the warm extremes may accelerate the arrival of early spring, the intensifying cold extremes may increase the risk of early spring frost damage, and hence may yield a profound impact on the regional agriculture of North America. Combined with reliable information on expected temperature variability at interannual-to-decadal timescales, the background longer-term projections can help inform decision makers in the food security sector.

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