Abstract El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has a profound influence on the occurrence of extreme precipitation events at local and regional scales in the present-day climate, and thus it is important to understand how that influence may change under future global warming. We consider this question using the large-ensemble simulations of CESM2, which simulates ENSO well historically. CESM2 projects that the influence of ENSO on extreme precipitation will strengthen further under the SSP3–7.0 scenario in most regions whose extreme precipitation regimes are strongly affected by ENSO in the boreal cold season. Extreme precipitation in the boreal cold season that exceeds historical thresholds is projected to become more common throughout the ENSO cycle. The difference in the intensity of extreme precipitation events that occur under El Niño and La Niña conditions will increase, resulting in “more extreme and more variable hydroclimate extremes.” We also consider the processes that affect the future intensity of extreme precipitation and how it varies with the ENSO cycle by partitioning changes into thermodynamic and dynamic components. The thermodynamic component, which reflects increases in atmospheric moisture content, results in a relatively uniform intensification of ENSO-driven extreme precipitation variation. In contrast, the dynamic component, which reflects changes in vertical motion, produces a strong regional difference in the response to forcing. In some regions, this component amplifies the thermodynamic-induced changes, while in others, it offsets them or even results in reduction in extreme precipitation variation.
Human Influence on the 2021 British Columbia Floods
Nathan P. Gillett,
Alex J. Cannon,
F. S. Anslow,
Megan C. Kirchmeier‐Young,
Francis W. Zwiers,
SSRN Electronic Journal
A strong atmospheric river made landfall in southwestern British Columbia, Canada on 14th November 2021, bringing two days of intense precipitation to the region. The resulting floods and landslides led to the loss of at least five lives, cut Vancouver off entirely from the rest of Canada by road and rail, and made this the costliest natural disaster in the province's history. Here we show that westerly atmospheric river events of this magnitude are approximately one in ten year events in the current climate of this region, and that such events have been made at least 60% more likely by the effects of human-induced climate change. Characterized in terms of the associated two-day precipitation, the event is approximately a one in 50-100 year event, and its probability has been increased by a best estimate of 50% by human-induced climate change. The effects of this precipitation on streamflow were exacerbated by already wet conditions preceding the event, and by rising temperatures during the event that led to significant snowmelt, which led to streamflow maxima exceeding estimated one in a hundred year events in several basins in the region. Based on a large ensemble of simulations with a hydrological model which integrates the effects of multiple climatic drivers, we find that the probability of such extreme streamflow events has been increased by human-induced climate change by a best estimate of 2 to 4. Together these results demonstrate the substantial human influence on this compound extreme event, and help motivate efforts to increase resiliency in the face of more frequent events of this kind in the future.
Abstract This study provides a comprehensive analysis of the human contribution to the observed intensification of precipitation extremes at different spatial scales. We consider the annual maxima of the logarithm of 1-day (Rx1day) and 5-day (Rx5day) precipitation amounts for 1950–2014 over the global land area, four continents, and several regions, and compare observed changes with expected responses to external forcings as simulated by CanESM2 in a large-ensemble experiment and by multiple models from phase 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6). We use a novel detection and attribution analysis method that is applied directly to station data in the areas considered without prior processing such as gridding, spatial or temporal dimension reduction or transformation to unitless indices and uses climate models only to obtain estimates of the space-time pattern of extreme precipitation response to external forcing. The influence of anthropogenic forcings on extreme precipitation is detected over the global land area, three continental regions (western Northern Hemisphere, western Eurasia and eastern Eurasia), and many smaller IPCC regions, including C. North-America, E. Asia, E.C. Asia, E. Europe, E. North-America, N. Europe, and W. Siberia for Rx1day, and C. North-America, E. Europe, E. North-America, N. Europe, Russian-Arctic, and W. Siberia for Rx5day. Consistent results are obtained using forcing response estimates from either CanESM2 or CMIP6. Anthropogenic influence is estimated to have substantially decreased the approximate waiting time between extreme annual maximum events in regions where anthropogenic influence has been detected, which has important implications for infrastructure design and climate change adaptation policy.
Human influence on the 2021 British Columbia floods
Nathan P. Gillett,
Alex J. Cannon,
F. S. Anslow,
Megan C. Kirchmeier‐Young,
Francis W. Zwiers,
Weather and Climate Extremes, Volume 36
A strong atmospheric river made landfall in southwestern British Columbia, Canada on November 14th, 2021, bringing two days of intense precipitation to the region. The resulting floods and landslides led to the loss of at least five lives, cut Vancouver off entirely from the rest of Canada by road and rail, and made this the costliest natural disaster in the province's history. Here we show that when characterised in terms of storm-averaged water vapour transport, the variable typically used to characterise the intensity of atmospheric rivers, westerly atmospheric river events of this magnitude are approximately one in ten year events in the current climate of this region, and that such events have been made at least 60% more likely by the effects of human-induced climate change. Characterised in terms of the associated two-day precipitation, the event is substantially more extreme, approximately a one in fifty to one in a hundred year event, and the probability of events at least this large has been increased by a best estimate of 45% by human-induced climate change. The effects of this precipitation on streamflow were exacerbated by already wet conditions preceding the event, and by rising temperatures during the event that led to significant snowmelt, which led to streamflow maxima exceeding estimated one in a hundred year events in several basins in the region. Based on a large ensemble of simulations with a hydrological model which integrates the effects of multiple climatic drivers, we find that the probability of such extreme streamflow events in October to December has been increased by human-induced climate change by a best estimate of 120–330%. Together these results demonstrate the substantial human influence on this compound extreme event, and help motivate efforts to increase resiliency in the face of more frequent events of this kind in the future.
Abstract Obtaining reliable water balance estimates remains a major challenge in Canada for large regions with scarce in situ measurements. Various remote sensing products can be used to complement observation-based datasets and provide an estimate of the water balance at river basin or regional scales. This study provides an assessment of the water balance using combinations of various remote sensing and data assimilation-based products and quantifies the non-closure errors for river basins across Canada, ranging from 90,900 to 1,679,100 km 2 , for the period from 2002 to 2015. A water balance equation combines the following to estimate the monthly water balance closure: multiple sources of data for each water budget component, including two precipitation products - the global product WATCH Forcing Data ERA-Interim (WFDEI), and the Canadian Precipitation Analysis (CaPA); two evapotranspiration products - MODIS, and Global Land-surface Evaporation: the Amsterdam Methodology (GLEAM); one source of water storage data - GRACE from three different centers; and observed discharge data from hydrometric stations (HYDAT). The non-closure error is attributed to the different data products using a constrained Kalman filter. Results show that the combination of CaPA, GLEAM, and the JPL mascon GRACE product tended to outperform other combinations across Canadian river basins. Overall, the error attributions of precipitation, evapotranspiration, water storage change, and runoff were 36.7, 33.2, 17.8, and 12.2 percent, which corresponded to 8.1, 7.9, 4.2, and 1.4 mm month -1 , respectively. In particular, non-closure error from precipitation dominated in Western Canada, whereas that from evapotranspiration contributed most in the Mackenzie River basin.
On the Optimal Design of Field Significance Tests for Changes in Climate Extremes
Francis W. Zwiers,
Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 48, Issue 9
Field significance tests have been widely used to detect climate change. In most cases, a local test is used to identify significant changes at individual locations, which is then followed by a field significance test that considers the number of locations in a region with locally significant changes. The choice of local test can affect the result, potentially leading to conflicting assessments of the impact of climate change on a region. We demonstrate that when considering changes in the annual extremes of daily precipitation, the simple Mann‐Kendall trend test is preferred as the local test over more complex likelihood ratio tests that compare the fits of stationary and nonstationary generalized extreme value distributions. This lesson allows us to report, with enhanced confidence, that the intensification of annual extremes of daily precipitation in China since 1961 became field significant much earlier than previously reported.
Abstract This paper provides an updated analysis of observed changes in extreme precipitation using high-quality station data up to 2018. We examine changes in extreme precipitation represented by annual maxima of 1-day (Rx1day) and 5-day (Rx5day) precipitation accumulations at different spatial scales and attempt to address whether the signal in extreme precipitation has strengthened with several years of additional observations. Extreme precipitation has increased at about two-thirds of stations and the percentage of stations with significantly increasing trends is significantly larger than that can be expected by chance for the globe, continents including Asia, Europe, and North America, and regions including central North America, eastern North America, northern Central America, northern Europe, the Russian Far East, eastern central Asia, and East Asia. The percentage of stations with significantly decreasing trends is not different from that expected by chance. Fitting extreme precipitation to generalized extreme value distributions with global mean surface temperature (GMST) as a covariate reaffirms the statistically significant connections between extreme precipitation and temperature. The global median sensitivity, percentage change in extreme precipitation per 1 K increase in GMST is 6.6% (5.1% to 8.2%; 5%–95% confidence interval) for Rx1day and is slightly smaller at 5.7% (5.0% to 8.0%) for Rx5day. The comparison of results based on observations ending in 2018 with those from data ending in 2000–09 shows a consistent median rate of increase, but a larger percentage of stations with statistically significant increasing trends, indicating an increase in the detectability of extreme precipitation intensification, likely due to the use of longer records.
Abstract This study presents an analysis of daily temperature and precipitation extremes with return periods ranging from 2 to 50 years in phase 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) multimodel ensemble of simulations. Judged by similarity with reanalyses, the new-generation models simulate the present-day temperature and precipitation extremes reasonably well. In line with previous CMIP simulations, the new simulations continue to project a large-scale picture of more frequent and more intense hot temperature extremes and precipitation extremes and vanishing cold extremes under continued global warming. Changes in temperature extremes outpace changes in global annual mean surface air temperature (GSAT) over most landmasses, while changes in precipitation extremes follow changes in GSAT globally at roughly the Clausius–Clapeyron rate of ~7% °C −1 . Changes in temperature and precipitation extremes normalized with respect to GSAT do not depend strongly on the choice of forcing scenario or model climate sensitivity, and do not vary strongly over time, but with notable regional variations. Over the majority of land regions, the projected intensity increases and relative frequency increases tend to be larger for more extreme hot temperature and precipitation events than for weaker events. To obtain robust estimates of these changes at local scales, large initial-condition ensemble simulations are needed. Appropriate spatial pooling of data from neighboring grid cells within individual simulations can, to some extent, reduce the needed ensemble size.
Abstract Long-term changes in extreme daily and subdaily precipitation simulated by climate models are often compared with corresponding temperature changes to estimate the sensitivity of extreme precipitation to warming. Such “trend scaling” rates are difficult to estimate from observations, however, because of limited data availability and high background variability. Intra-annual temperature scaling (here called binning scaling), which relates extreme precipitation to temperature at or near the time of occurrence, has been suggested as a possible substitute for trend scaling. We use a large ensemble simulation of the Canadian regional climate model (CanRCM4) to assess this possibility, considering both daily near-surface air temperature and daily dewpoint temperature as scaling variables. We find that binning curves that are based on precipitation data for the whole year generally look like the composite of binning curves for winter and summer, with the lower temperature portion similar to winter and the higher temperature portion similar to summer, indicating that binning curves reflect seasonal changes in the relationship between temperature and extreme precipitation. The magnitude and spatial pattern of binning and trend scaling rates are also quantitatively different, with little spatial correlation between them, regardless of precipitation duration or choice of temperature variable. The evidence therefore suggests that binning scaling with temperature is not a reliable predictor for future changes in precipitation extremes in the climate simulated by CanRCM4. Nevertheless, external forcing does have a discernable influence on binning curves, which are seen to shift upward and to the right in some regions, consistent with a general increase in extreme precipitation.
This study conducts a detection and attribution analysis of the observed changes in extreme precipitation during 1951–2015. Observed and CMIP6 multimodel simulated changes in annual maximum daily and consecutive 5-day precipitation are compared using an optimal fingerprinting technique for different spatial scales from global land, Northern Hemisphere extratropics, tropics, three continental regions (North America and western and eastern Eurasia), and global “dry” and “wet” land areas (as defined by their average extreme precipitation intensities). Results indicate that anthropogenic greenhouse gas influence is robustly detected in the observed intensification of extreme precipitation over the global land and most of the subregions considered, all with clear separation from natural and anthropogenic aerosol forcings. Also, the human-induced greenhouse gas increases are found to be a dominant contributor to the observed increase in extreme precipitation intensity, which largely follows the increased moisture availability under global warming.
M.A. Ben Alaya was supported by the Climate Related Precipitation Extremes project of the Global Water Futures program.
Global warming is expected to increase the amount of atmospheric moisture, resulting in heavier extreme precipitation. Various studies have used the historical relationship between extreme precipitation and temperature (temperature scaling) to provide guidance about precipitation extremes in a future warmer climate. Here we assess how much information is required to robustly identify temperature scaling relationships, and whether these relationships are equally effective at different times in the future in estimating precipitation extremes everywhere across North America. Using a large ensemble of 35 North American regional climate simulations of the period 1951–2100, we show that individual climate simulations of length comparable to that of typical instrumental records are unable to constrain temperature scaling relationships well enough to reliably estimate future extremes of local precipitation accumulation for hourly to daily durations in the model's climate. Hence, temperature scaling relationships estimated from the limited historical observations are unlikely to be able to provide reliable guidance for future adaptation planning at local spatial scales. In contrast, well‐constrained temperature scaling relations based on multiple regional climate simulations do provide a feasible basis for accurately projecting precipitation extremes of hourly to daily durations in different future periods over more than 90% of the North American land area.
Larger Increases in More Extreme Local Precipitation Events as Climate Warms
Francis W. Zwiers,
Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 46, Issue 12
Climate models project that extreme precipitation events will intensify in proportion to their intensity during the 21st century at large spatial scales. The identification of the causes of this phenomenon nevertheless remains tenuous. Using a large ensemble of North American regional climate simulations, we show that the more rapid intensification of more extreme events also appears as a robust feature at finer regional scales. The larger increases in more extreme events than in less extreme events are found to be primarily due to atmospheric circulation changes. Thermodynamically induced changes have relatively uniform effects across extreme events and regions. In contrast, circulation changes weaken moderate events over western interior regions of North America and enhance them elsewhere. The weakening effect decreases and even reverses for more extreme events, whereas there is further intensification over other parts of North America, creating an “intense gets intenser” pattern over most of the continent.
This study evaluates regional-scale projections of climate indices that are relevant to climate change impacts in Canada. We consider indices of relevance to different sectors including those that describe heat conditions for different crop types, temperature threshold exceedances relevant for human beings and ecological ecosystems such as the number of days temperatures are above certain thresholds, utility relevant indices that indicate levels of energy demand for cooling or heating, and indices that represent precipitation conditions. Results are based on an ensemble of high-resolution statistically downscaled climate change projections from 24 global climate models (GCMs) under the RCP2.6, RCP4.5, and RCP8.5 emissions scenarios. The statistical downscaling approach includes a bias-correction procedure, resulting in more realistic indices than those computed from the original GCM data. We find that the level of projected changes in the indices scales well with the projected increase in the global mean temperature and is insensitive to the emission scenarios. At the global warming level about 2.1 °C above pre-industrial (corresponding to the multi-model ensemble mean for 2031–2050 under the RCP8.5 scenario), there is almost complete model agreement on the sign of projected changes in temperature indices for every region in Canada. This includes projected increases in extreme high temperatures and cooling demand, growing season length, and decrease in heating demand. Models project much larger changes in temperature indices at the higher 4.5 °C global warming level (corresponding to 2081–2100 under the RCP8.5 scenario). Models also project an increase in total precipitation, in the frequency and intensity of precipitation, and in extreme precipitation. Uncertainty is high in precipitation projections, with the result that models do not fully agree on the sign of changes in most regions even at the 4.5 °C global warming level.
Wet bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) accounts for the effect of environmental temperature and humidity on thermal comfort, and can be directly related to the ability of the human body to dissipate excess metabolic heat and thus avoid heat stress. Using WBGT as a measure of environmental conditions conducive to heat stress, we show that anthropogenic influence has very substantially increased the likelihood of extreme high summer mean WBGT in northern hemispheric land areas relative to the climate that would have prevailed in the absence of anthropogenic forcing. We estimate that the likelihood of summer mean WGBT exceeding the observed historical record value has increased by a factor of at least 70 at regional scales due to anthropogenic influence on the climate. We further estimate that, in most northern hemispheric regions, these changes in the likelihood of extreme summer mean WBGT are roughly an order of magnitude larger than the corresponding changes in the likelihood of extreme hot summers as simply measured by surface air temperature. Projections of future summer mean WBGT under the RCP8.5 emissions scenario that are constrained by observations indicate that by 2030s at least 50% of the summers will have mean WBGT higher than the observed historical record value in all the analyzed regions, and that this frequency of occurrence will increase to 95% by mid-century.
Understanding, modeling and predicting weather and climate extremes: Challenges and opportunities
Thordis L. Thorarinsdottir,
Lisa V. Alexander,
Gabriele C. Hegerl,
Sonia I. Seneviratne,
Francis W. Zwiers
Weather and Climate Extremes, Volume 18
Weather and climate extremes are identified as major areas necessitating further progress in climate research and have thus been selected as one of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Grand Challenges. Here, we provide an overview of current challenges and opportunities for scientific progress and cross-community collaboration on the topic of understanding, modeling and predicting extreme events based on an expert workshop organized as part of the implementation of the WCRP Grand Challenge on Weather and Climate Extremes. In general, the development of an extreme event depends on a favorable initial state, the presence of large-scale drivers, and positive local feedbacks, as well as stochastic processes. We, therefore, elaborate on the scientific challenges related to large-scale drivers and local-to-regional feedback processes leading to extreme events. A better understanding of the drivers and processes will improve the prediction of extremes and will support process-based evaluation of the representation of weather and climate extremes in climate model simulations. Further, we discuss how to address these challenges by focusing on short-duration (less than three days) and long-duration (weeks to months) extreme events, their underlying mechanisms and approaches for their evaluation and prediction.