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Xin-Zhong Liang, Kenneth E. Kunkel, and Arthur N. Samel

Abstract

A regional climate model (RCM) is being developed for U.S. Midwest applications on the basis of the newly released Pennsylvania State University–NCAR Fifth-Generation Mesoscale Model (MM5), version 3.3. This study determines the optimal RCM domain and effective data assimilation technique to accurately integrate lateral boundary conditions (LBCs) across the buffer zones. The LBCs are constructed from both the NCEP–NCAR and ECMWF reanalyses to depict forcing uncertainties. The RCM domain was chosen to correctly represent the governing physical processes while minimizing LBC errors. Sensitivity experiments are conducted for the Midwest 1993 summer flood to investigate buffer zone treatment impacts on RCM performance.

The results demonstrate the superiority of the buffer zone treatment that consists of the physically based domain choice and revised assimilation technique. Given this treatment, the RCM realistically simulates both temporal variations and spatial distributions in the major flood area (MFA). This success is identified with the accurate representation of both the midlatitude upper-level jet stream and Great Plains low-level jet (LLJ). The RCM reproduces different climate regimes, where observed rainfall was identified with the periodic (5 day) passage of midlatitude cyclones in June and persistent synoptic circulations in July. The model also correctly simulates the MFA rainfall diurnal cycle (with the peak amount at 0900 UTC), which follows the LLJ cycle by approximately 3 h. On the other hand, RCM performance is substantially reduced when the southern buffer zone extends to the Tropics, where large forcing errors exist. In particular, the RCM generates a weaker LLJ and, as a consequence, a decreased amount and delayed diurnal cycle of the MFA rainfall. In addition, the MM5 default LBC data assimilation technique produces considerable model biases, whereas the revised technique improves overall RCM performance and reduces sensitivity to domain size.

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Eleonora M. C. Demaria, David C. Goodrich, and Kenneth E. Kunkel

Abstract

The detection and attribution of changes in precipitation characteristics relies on dense networks of rain gauges. In the United States, the COOP network is widely used for such studies even though there are reported inconsistencies due to changes in instruments and location, inadequate maintenance, dissimilar observation time, and the fact that measurements are made by a group of dedicated volunteers. Alternately, the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network has been consistently and professionally measuring precipitation since the early 1930s. The purpose of this study is to compare changes in extreme daily precipitation characteristics during the warm season using paired rain gauges from the LTAR and COOP networks. The comparison, done at 12 LTAR sites located across the United States, shows underestimation and overestimation of daily precipitation totals at the COOP sites compared to the reference LTAR observations. However, the magnitude and direction of the differences are not linked to the underlying precipitation climatology of the sites. Precipitation indices that focus on extreme precipitation characteristics match closely between the two networks at most of the sites. Our results show consistency between the COOP and LTAR networks with precipitation extremes. It also indicates that despite the discrepancies at the daily time steps, the extreme precipitation observed by COOP rain gauges can be reliably used to characterize changes in the hydrologic cycle due to natural and human causes.

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Michael A. Palecki, Stanley A. Changnon, and Kenneth E. Kunkel

The July 1999 heat wave in the Midwest was an event of relatively long duration punctuated by extreme conditions during its last 2 days. The intensity of the heat wave on 29 and 30 July rivaled that of the 1995 heat wave that killed more than 1000 people in the central United States. In 1999, however, the death toll was about one-fourth of this amount in the same region. The 1999 heat wave 2-day maximum apparent temperature was slightly less than during the 1995 heat wave at most Midwestern first-order stations. In addition, the 2-day peak was preceded by several hot days that allowed some short-term acclimatization to occur prior to the intense final days. In Chicago, conditions during the peak of the 1999 heat wave were very similar to those during the 1995 heat wave peak, especially the extreme nocturnal conditions of temperatures and humidity. Therefore, it seems unlikely that the reduction in the heat wave death toll in Chicago from about 700 in 1995 to 114 in 1999 is due solely to meteorological differences between the two heat waves. In St. Louis, the 1999 heat wave was intense for a much longer duration than the 1995 heat wave, thus partially explaining the increase in heat-related deaths there from the 1995 event to the 1999 event.

An examination of heat wave response efforts in both Chicago and St. Louis leads to the conclusion that both cities were quite effective at mitigating their respective heat wave mortality rates, which in the 1999 event were almost exactly the same in both metropolitan areas. This represents a great improvement for the city of Chicago compared to the 1995 heat wave. Suggestions are made for further improving municipal heat wave response efforts based on the 1999 experience.

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Kenneth E. Kunkel, Stanley A. Changnon, and James R. Angel

The 1993 record-breaking summer flood in the Upper Mississippi River Basin resulted from an unprecedentedly persistent heavy rain pattern. Rainfall totals for the Upper Mississippi River Basin were, by a large margin, the largest of this century for the 2-, 3-, 4-, and 12- month periods encompassing the 1993 summer. The totals for these periods are estimated to have a probability of occurrence of less than 0.005 yr−1 In addition, the number of reporting stations receiving weekly totals in excess of 100 mm (events identified in a previous study as being closely correlated with floods) was the largest in at least the last 45 yr. Other conditions contributing to the flood include above-normal soil moisture levels at the beginning of June 1993; large-sized areas of moderate to heavy rains; occurrence of rain areas oriented along the main stems of major rivers; a large number of localized extreme daily rainfall totals (greater than 150 mm); and below-normal evaporation. The large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns during the summer of 1993 were similar to the patterns associated with past heavy rain events, although much more persistent than past events.

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Kenneth E. Kunkel, Xin-Zhong Liang, and Jinhong Zhu

Abstract

Regional climate model (RCM) simulations, driven by low and high climate-sensitivity coupled general circulation models (CGCMs) under various future emissions scenarios, were compared to projected changes in heat wave characteristics. The RCM downscaling reduces the CGCM biases in heat wave threshold temperature by a factor of 2, suggesting a higher credibility in the future projections. All of the RCM simulations suggest that there is a high probability of heat waves of unprecedented severity by the end of the twenty-first century if a high emissions path is followed. In particular, the annual 3-day heat wave temperature increases generally by 3°–8°C; the number of heat wave days increases by 30–60 day yr−1 over much of the western and southern United States with slightly smaller increases elsewhere; the variance spectra for intermediate, 3–7 days (prolonged, 7–14 days), temperature extremes increase (decrease) in the central (western) United States. If a lower emissions path is followed, then the outcomes range from quite small changes to substantial increases. In all cases, the mean temperature climatological shift is the dominant change in heat wave characteristics, suggesting that adaptation and acclimatization could reduce effects.

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Scott E. Stevens, Carl J. Schreck III, Shubhayu Saha, Jesse E. Bell, and Kenneth E. Kunkel

Abstract

Motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and weather is frequently cited as a contributing factor in fatal crashes. Previous studies have investigated the link between these crashes and precipitation typically using station-based observations that, while providing a good estimate of the prevailing conditions on a given day or hour, often fail to capture the conditions present at the actual time and location of a crash. Using a multiyear, high-resolution radar reanalysis and information on 125,012 fatal crashes spanning the entire continental United States over a 6-yr period, we find that the overall risk of a fatal crash increases by approximately 34% during active precipitation. The risk is significant in all regions of the continental United States, and it is highest during the morning rush hour and during the winter months.

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Kenneth E. Kunkel, Michael Palecki, Leslie Ensor, Kenneth G. Hubbard, David Robinson, Kelly Redmond, and David Easterling

Abstract

A quality assessment of daily manual snowfall data has been undertaken for all U.S. long-term stations and their suitability for climate research. The assessment utilized expert judgment on the quality of each station. Through this process, the authors have identified a set of stations believed to be suitable for analysis of trends. Since the 1920s, snowfall has been declining in the West and the mid-Atlantic coast. In some places during recent years the decline has been more precipitous, strongly trending downward along the southern margins of the seasonal snow region, the southern Missouri River basin, and parts of the Northeast. Snowfall has been increasing since the 1920s in the lee of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes–northern Ohio Valley, and parts of the north-central United States. These areas that are in opposition to the overall pattern of declining snowfall seem to be associated with specific dynamical processes, such as upslope snow and lake-effect snow that may be responding to changes in atmospheric circulation.

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Jared Rennie, Jesse E. Bell, Kenneth E. Kunkel, Stephanie Herring, Heidi Cullen, and Azar M. Abadi

Abstract

Land surface air temperature products have been essential for monitoring the evolution of the climate system. Before a temperature dataset is included in such analyses, it is important that nonclimatic influences be removed or changed so that the dataset is considered to be homogenous. These inhomogeneities include changes in station location, instrumentation, and observing practices. Many homogenized products exist on the monthly time scale, but few daily and weekly products exist. Recently, a submonthly homogenized dataset has been developed using data and software from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Homogeneous daily data are useful for identification and attribution of extreme heat events. Projections of increasing temperatures are expected to result in corresponding increases in the frequency, duration, and intensity of such events. It is also established that heat events can have significant public health impacts, including increases in mortality and morbidity. The method to identify extreme heat events using daily homogeneous temperature data is described and used to develop a climatology of heat event onset, length, and severity. This climatology encompasses nearly 3000 extreme maximum and minimum temperature events across the United States since 1901. A sizeable number of events occurred during the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s; however, trend analysis shows an increase in heat event number and length since 1951. Overnight extreme minimum temperature events are increasing more than daytime maximum temperatures, and regional analysis shows that events are becoming much more prevalent in the western and southeastern parts of the United States.

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Kenneth E. Kunkel, Stanley A. Changnon, Carl G. Lonnquist, and James R. Angel

The Midwestern Climate Information System (MICIS) is a near real-time system which provides access to a wide variety of climate information products. These include current temperature and precipitation data for several hundred midwestern United States stations, historical temperature, and precipitation for about 1500 stations, climate summaries, long-range predictions, regional soil moisture estimates, and crop yield risk assessments. The region covered includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Because agriculture is a major sector of the Midwestern economy and is sensitive to climate fluctuations, some products have been oriented to the needs of agriculture. However, many other products have general applicability. Users of this system include agribusinesses and researchers.

MICIS has several unique features: a) regional coverage provides climatic information for a major part of the United States corn and soybean belt; b) daily temperature and precipitation data are obtained daily from an average of 500 stations providing an up-to-date assessment of current climatic conditions; c) process models provide an estimate of potential impacts on soil moisture and corn and soybean yields.

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Jay Lawrimore, Thomas R. Karl, Mike Squires, David A. Robinson, and Kenneth E. Kunkel

Abstract

The 100 most severe snowstorms within each of six climate regions east of the Rocky Mountains were analyzed to understand how the frequency of severe snowstorms is associated with seasonal averages of other variables that may be more readily predicted and projected. In particular, temperature, precipitation, and El Niño/La Niña anomalies from 1901 to 2013 were studied. In the southern United States, anomalously cold seasonal temperatures were found to be more closely linked to severe snowstorm development than in the northern United States. The conditional probability of occurrence of one or more severe snowstorms in seasons that are colder than average is 80% or greater in regions of the southern United States, which was found to be statistically significant, while it is as low as 35% when seasonal temperatures are warmer than average. This compares with unconditional probabilities of 55%–60%. For seasons that are wetter (drier) than average, severe snowstorm frequency is significantly greater (less) in the Northern Plains region. An analysis of the seasonal timing of severe snowstorm occurrence found they are not occurring as late in the season in recent decades in the warmest climate regions when compared to the previous 75 years. Since 1977, the median date of occurrence in the last half of the cold season is six or more days earlier in the Southeast, South, and Ohio Valley regions than earlier in the twentieth century. ENSO conditions also were found to have a strong influence on the occurrence of the top 100 snowstorms in the Northeast and Southeast regions.

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