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Dynamically Downscaled Projections of Lake-Effect Snow in the Great Lakes Basin

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  • 1 Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
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Abstract

Projected changes in lake-effect snowfall by the mid- and late twenty-first century are explored for the Laurentian Great Lakes basin. Simulations from two state-of-the-art global climate models within phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) are dynamically downscaled according to the representative concentration pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5). The downscaling is performed using the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) Regional Climate Model version 4 (RegCM4) with 25-km grid spacing, interactively coupled to a one-dimensional lake model. Both downscaled models produce atmospheric warming and increased cold-season precipitation. The Great Lakes’ ice cover is projected to dramatically decline and, by the end of the century, become confined to the northern shallow lakeshores during mid-to-late winter. Projected reductions in ice cover and greater dynamically induced wind fetch lead to enhanced lake evaporation and resulting total lake-effect precipitation, although with increased rainfall at the expense of snowfall. A general reduction in the frequency of heavy lake-effect snowstorms is simulated during the twenty-first century, except with increases around Lake Superior by the midcentury when local air temperatures still remain low enough for wintertime precipitation to largely fall in the form of snow. Despite the significant progress made here in elucidating the potential future changes in lake-effect snowstorms across the Great Lakes basin, further research is still needed to downscale a larger ensemble of CMIP5 model simulations, ideally using a higher-resolution, nonhydrostatic regional climate model coupled to a three-dimensional lake model.

Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research Contribution No. 1208.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00467.s1.

Corresponding author address: Michael Notaro, Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1225 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706. E-mail: mnotaro@wisc.edu

Abstract

Projected changes in lake-effect snowfall by the mid- and late twenty-first century are explored for the Laurentian Great Lakes basin. Simulations from two state-of-the-art global climate models within phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) are dynamically downscaled according to the representative concentration pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5). The downscaling is performed using the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) Regional Climate Model version 4 (RegCM4) with 25-km grid spacing, interactively coupled to a one-dimensional lake model. Both downscaled models produce atmospheric warming and increased cold-season precipitation. The Great Lakes’ ice cover is projected to dramatically decline and, by the end of the century, become confined to the northern shallow lakeshores during mid-to-late winter. Projected reductions in ice cover and greater dynamically induced wind fetch lead to enhanced lake evaporation and resulting total lake-effect precipitation, although with increased rainfall at the expense of snowfall. A general reduction in the frequency of heavy lake-effect snowstorms is simulated during the twenty-first century, except with increases around Lake Superior by the midcentury when local air temperatures still remain low enough for wintertime precipitation to largely fall in the form of snow. Despite the significant progress made here in elucidating the potential future changes in lake-effect snowstorms across the Great Lakes basin, further research is still needed to downscale a larger ensemble of CMIP5 model simulations, ideally using a higher-resolution, nonhydrostatic regional climate model coupled to a three-dimensional lake model.

Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research Contribution No. 1208.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00467.s1.

Corresponding author address: Michael Notaro, Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1225 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706. E-mail: mnotaro@wisc.edu

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