17B.2 Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on Extreme Warm Spells

Thursday, 11 January 2018: 3:45 PM
408 (Hilton) (Austin, Texas)
Prashant D. Sardeshmukh, CIRES/Univ. of Colorado and NOAA/ESRL/PSD, Boulder, CO; and G. P. Compo, C. McColl, and C. Penland

It is generally presumed that the likelihood of extreme warm spells around the globe has increased, and will continue to increase, due to global warming. However, we find that this is generally not true in three very different types of global observational datasets and uncoupled atmospheric model simulations of the 1959 to 2012 period with prescribed observed global SSTs, sea ice, and radiative forcing changes. While extreme warm spells indeed became more common in many regions, in many other regions their likelihood remained almost the same or even decreased from the first half to the second half of this period. Such regions of unexpected changes covered nearly 40 percent of the globe in both winter and summer. The basic reason for this was a decrease of temperature variability in such regions that offset or even negated the effect of the mean temperature shift on extreme warm spell probabilities. The possibility of such an impact on extreme value probabilities was highlighted in a recent paper by Sardeshmukh, Compo, and Penland (Journal of Climate 2015).

The consistency of the changes in extreme warm spell probabilities among the different observational datasets and model simulations examined suggests that they are robust regional aspects of global warming associated with atmospheric circulation changes. This highlights the need for climate models to represent not just the mean regional temperature signals but also the changes in subseasonal temperature variability associated with global warming. However, current climate models (both CMIP3 and CMIP5) generally underestimate the magnitude of the changes in the atmospheric circulation and associated temperature variability. A likely major cause of this is their continuing underestimation of the magnitude of the spatial variation of tropical SST trends. By generating an overly spatially bland tropical SST warming in response to changes in radiative forcing, the models spuriously mute tropically-forced teleconnections around the globe, and hence mute changes in temperature variability. This leads to overemphasized impacts of the mean temperature changes, and underemphasized impacts of the changes in subseasonal temperature variability, on the altered risks of extreme warm spells in those climate model simulations.

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