The earth’s climate is changing. Global average temperatures have risen 1.8°F since 1901 (Wuebbles et al. 2017). Warming temperatures are driving other environmental changes such as melting glaciers, rising sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns, and increased drought and wildfires. The magnitude of future changes will depend on the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) (particularly carbon dioxide) emitted into our atmosphere. Without significant reductions in GHGs, global average temperatures could rise as much as 9°F over pre-industrial temperatures by the end of this century. Even with drastic reductions in emissions, we could limit the warming to 3.6°F or less (Wuebbles et al. 2017). Coconino County has been experiencing climate changes as well. Average temperatures have been rising, particularly in the last 30 years. The region is likely to see fewer cold days and more hot days in the coming decades. And annual average temperatures could rise even more than the global average – possibly more than 10°F higher than the long-term average in the region.
Long-term changes in North American monsoon (NAM) precipitation intensity in the southwestern United States are evaluated through the use of convective-permitting model simulations of objectively identified severe weather events during "historical past" (1950-70) and "present day" (1991-2010) periods. Severe weather events are the days on which the highest atmospheric instability and moisture occur within a long-term regional climate simulation. Simulations of severe weather event days are performed with convective-permitting (2.5 km) grid spacing, and these simulations are compared with available observed precipitation data to evaluate the model performance and to verify any statistically significant model-simulated trends in precipitation. Statistical evaluation of precipitation extremes is performed using a peaks-over-threshold approach with a generalized Pareto distribution. A statistically significant long-term increase in atmospheric moisture and instability is associated with an increase in extreme monsoon precipitation in observations and simulations of severe weather events, corresponding to similar behavior in station-based precipitation observations in the Southwest. Precipitation is becoming more intense within the context of the diurnal cycle of convection. The largest modeled increases in extreme-event precipitation occur in central and southwestern Arizona, where mesoscale convective systems account for a majority of monsoon precipitation and where relatively large modeled increases in precipitable water occur. Therefore, it is concluded that a more favorable thermodynamic environment in the southwestern United States is facilitating stronger organized monsoon convection during at least the last 20 years.
Transient inverted troughs (IVs) are a trigger for severeweather during theNorthAmericanmonsoon (NAM) in the southwest contiguous United States (CONUS) and northwest Mexico. These upper-tropospheric disturbances enhance the synoptic-scale and mesoscale environment for organized convection, increasing the chances for microbursts, straight-line winds, blowing dust, and flash flooding. This work considers changes in the track density climatology of IVs between 1951 and 2010. IVs are tracked as potential vorticity (PV) anomalies on the 250-hPa surface from a regional climate model that dynamically downscales the NCEP- NCAR Reanalysis 1. Late in the NAM season, a significant increase in IV track density over the 60-yr period is observed over Southern California and western Arizona, coupled with a slight decrease over northwest Mexico. Changes in precipitation are evaluated on days when an IV is observed and days without an IV, using high-resolution model-simulated precipitation estimates and CPC gridded precipitation observations. Because of changes in the spatial distribution of IVs during the 1951-2010 analysis period, which are associated with a strengthening of the monsoon ridge, it is suggested that IVs have played a lesser role in the initiation and organization of monsoon convection in the southwest CONUS during recent warm seasons.
Natural climate variability is a prominent factor that affects many aspects of life, livelihoods, landscapes, and decision-making across the Southwestern U.S. (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah; included are the adjacent United States-Mexico border and Southwest Native Nations land). These natural fluctuations have caused droughts, floods, heat waves, cold snaps, heavy snow falls, severe winds, intense storms, the battering of coastal areas, and acute air-quality conditions. And as a region that has experienced—within the relatively short time span of several decades—rapid increases in human population (Figure 1.1), significant alterations in land use and land cover, limits on the supplies of water, long-term drought, and other climatic changes, the Southwest can be considered to be one of the most “climate-challenged” regions of North America. This document summarizes current understanding of climate variability, climate change, climate impacts, and possible solution choices for the climate challenge, all issues that are covered in greater depth in Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States.i
Extreme events can be defined in many ways. Typical definitions of weather and climate extremes consider either the maximum value during a specified time interval (such as season or year) or exceedance of a threshold (the “peaks-over-threshold” [POT] approach), in which universal rather than local thresholds are frequently applied. For example, temperatures above 95°F (35°C) are often considered extreme in most locations across the United States, except in areas such as the low-lying deserts of Arizona and California, where such temperatures are typical in the summer. Temperatures at these levels are obviously extreme for living organisms from a non-adapted, physiological perspective, and technological adaptation for humans is required for day-to-day functioning in such temperatures. But such temperatures are not necessarily extreme from the statistical or local climate perspectives. In statistics, extremes are considered low-probability events that differ greatly from typical occurrences. The IPCC defines extremes as 1% to 10% of the largest or smallest values of a distribution (Trenberth et al. 2007). Studies over large or complex regions marked by significant climatic variation require definitions that are relevant to local climate. Across the Southwest, location-specific definitions of extreme temperature, precipitation, humidity, and wind are required if a meaningful region-wide perspective is desired.
We investigate the climate response to US anthropogenic aerosol sources over the 1950 to 2050 period by using the NASA GISS general circulation model (GCM) and comparing to observed US temperature trends. Time-dependent aerosol distributions are generated from the GEOS-Chem chemical transport model applied to historical emission inventories and future projections. Radiative forcing from US anthropogenic aerosols peaked in 1970-1990 and has strongly declined since due to air quality regulations. We find that the regional radiative forcing from US anthropogenic aerosols elicits a strong regional climate response, cooling the central and eastern US by 0.5-1.0 °C on average during 1970-1990, with the strongest effects on maximum daytime temperatures in summer and autumn. Aerosol cooling reflects comparable contributions from direct and indirect (cloud-mediated) radiative effects. Absorbing aerosol (mainly black carbon) has negligible warming effect. Aerosol cooling reduces surface evaporation and thus decreases precipitation along the US east coast, but also increases the southerly flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico resulting in increased cloud cover and precipitation in the central US. Observations over the eastern US show a lack of warming in 1960-1980 followed by very rapid warming since, which we reproduce in the GCM and attribute to trends in US anthropogenic aerosol sources. Present US aerosol concentrations are sufficiently low that future air quality improvements are projected to cause little further warming in the US (0.1 °C over 2010-2050). We find that most of the potential warming from aerosol source controls in the US has already been realized over the 1980-2010 period.
The demand for spatial climate data in digital form has risen dramatically in recent years. In response to this need, a variety of statistical techniques have been used to facilitate the production of GIS-compatible climate maps. However, observational data are often too sparse and unrepresentative to directly support the creation of high-quality climate maps and data sets that truly represent the current state of knowledge, An effective approach is to use the wealth of expert knowledge on the spatial patterns of climate and their relationships with geographic features, termed 'geospatial climatology', to help enhance, control, and parameterize a statistical technique. Described here is a dynamic knowledge-based framework that allows for the effective accumulation, application, and refinement of climatic knowledge, as expressed in a statistical regression model known as PRISM (parameter-elevation regressions on independent slopes model). The ultimate goal is to develop an expert system capable of reproducing the process a knowledgeable climatologist would use to create high-quality climate maps, with the added benefits of consistency and repeatability. However, knowledge must first be accumulated and evaluated through an ongoing process of model application; development of knowledge prototypes, parameters and parameter settings; testing; evaluation; and modification. This paper describes the current state of a knowledge-based framework for climate mapping and presents specific algorithms from PRISM to demonstrate how this framework is applied and refined to accommodate difficult climate mapping situations. A weighted climate-elevation regression function acknowledges the dominant influence of elevation on climate. Climate stations are assigned weights that account for other climatically important factors besides elevation. Aspect and topographic exposure, which affect climate at a variety of scales, from hill slope to windward and leeward sides of mountain ranges, are simulated by dividing the terrain into topographic facets. A coastal proximity measure is used to account for sharp climatic gradients near coastlines. A 2-layer model structure divides the atmosphere into a lower boundary layer and an upper free atmosphere layer, allowing the simulation of temperature inversions, as well as mid-slope precipitation maxima. The effectiveness of various terrain configurations at producing orographic precipitation enhancement is also estimated. Climate mapping examples are presented.
1. Annual precipitation has decreased in much of the West, Southwest, and Southeast and increased in most of the Northern and Southern Plains, Midwest, and Northeast. A national average increase of 4% in annual precipitation since 1901 is mostly a result of large increases in the fall season. (Medium confidence) 2. Heavy precipitation events in most parts of the United States have increased in both intensity and frequency since 1901 (high confidence). There are important regional differences in trends, with the largest increases occurring in the northeastern United States (high confidence). In particular, mesoscale convective systems (organized clusters of thunderstorms)—the main mechanism for warm season precipitation in the central part of the United States—have increased in occurrence and precipitation amounts since 1979 (medium confidence). 3. The frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events are projected to continue to increase over the 21st century (high confidence). Mesoscale convective systems in the central United States, are expected to continue to increase in number and intensity in the future (medium confidence). There are, however, important regional and seasonal differences in projected changes in total precipitation: the northern United States, including Alaska, is projected to receive more precipitation in the winter and spring, and parts of the southwestern United States are projected to receive less precipitation in the winter and spring (medium confidence). 4. Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover extent, North America maximum snow depth, snow water equivalent in the western United States, and extreme snowfall years in the southern and western United States have all declined, while extreme snowfall years in parts of the northern United States have increased (medium confidence). Projections indicate large declines in snowpack in the western United States and shifts to more precipitation falling as rain than snow in the cold season in many parts of the central and eastern United States (high confidence).
Observed surface air temperatures over the contiguous U.S. for the second half of the twentieth century showed a slight cooling over the southeastern part of the country, the so-called “warming hole,” while temperatures over the rest of the country warmed. This pattern reversed after 2000. Climate model simulations show that the disappearance of the warming hole in the early 2000s is likely associated with the transition of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) phase from positive to negative in the tropical Pacific in the late 1990s, coincident with the early 2000s slowdown of the warming trend in globally averaged surface air temperature. Analysis of a specified convective heating anomaly sensitivity experiment in an atmosphere-only model traces the disappearance of the warming hole to negative sea surface temperature anomalies and consequent negative precipitation and convective heating anomalies in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean associated with the negative phase of the IPO after 2000.