Main content area

Avoided climate impacts of urban and rural heat and cold waves over the U.S. using large climate model ensembles for RCP8.5 and RCP4.5

Oleson, K.W., Anderson, G.B., Jones, B., McGinnis, S.A., Sanderson, B.
Climatic change 2018 v.146 no.3-4 pp. 377-392
climate, climate change, climate models, heat, heat island, rural areas, summer, United States
Previous studies examining future changes in heat/cold waves using climate model ensembles have been limited to grid cell-average quantities. Here, we make use of an urban parameterization in the Community Earth System Model (CESM) that represents the urban heat island effect, which can exacerbate extreme heat but may ameliorate extreme cold in urban relative to rural areas. Heat/cold wave characteristics are derived for U.S. regions from a bias-corrected CESM 30-member ensemble for climate outcomes driven by the RCP8.5 forcing scenario and a 15-member ensemble driven by RCP4.5. Significant differences are found between urban and grid cell-average heat/cold wave characteristics. Most notably, urban heat waves for 1981–2005 are more intense than grid cell-average by 2.1 °C (southeast) to 4.6 °C (southwest), while cold waves are less intense. We assess the avoided climate impacts of urban heat/cold waves in 2061–2080 when following the lower forcing scenario. Urban heat wave days per year increase from 6 in 1981–2005 to up to 92 (southeast) in RCP8.5. Following RCP4.5 reduces heat wave days by about 50 %. Large avoided impacts are demonstrated for individual communities; e.g., the longest heat wave for Houston in RCP4.5 is 38 days while in RCP8.5 there is one heat wave per year that is longer than a month with some lasting the entire summer. Heat waves also start later in the season in RCP4.5 (earliest are in early May) than RCP8.5 (mid-April), compared to 1981–2005 (late May). In some communities, cold wave events decrease from 2 per year for 1981–2005 to one-in-five year events in RCP4.5 and one-in-ten year events in RCP8.5.