Historical Trends and Future Projections of Extreme Climate Conditions for the National Climate Assessment

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Tuesday, 4 February 2014: 2:30 PM
Room C102 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Kenneth E. Kunkel, NOAA/CICS, Asheville, NC; and D. R. Easterling, L. Sun, and L. Stevens

In support of the development of the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3) report, extensive analyses of historical trends and future projections were undertaken. These analyses were organized around an 8-region breakdown of the U.S. A particular focus was on extreme climate conditions, including heavy rain, extreme heat and cold, drought, and storms. This talk will summarize some of the key outcomes of these analyses.

Confident projections of future conditions under selected scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions can be made for some extremes types but not others. In a few cases, confident projections can be made for extreme conditions but not for mean conditions. Precipitation is a case in point. Projections of mean precipitation do not provide a robust signal of either increases or decreases in most of the U.S. This lack of a robustly simulated direction of change extends to the end of the 21st Century. However, there are aspects of the precipitation climatology that exhibit a robust direction of change. Model simulations of extreme rainfall indicate future increases of 20% or more in the magnitude of the largest rainfall events under a high emissions scenario. Such increases are simulated even where mean annual precipitation is projected to decrease. Also, the length of dry spells is projected to increase in most areas, even in some areas where mean annual precipitation is projected to decrease. Thus, overall the precipitation climate is projected to become more extreme.