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  • Author or Editor: James A. Screen x
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James A. Screen, Clara Deser, and Lantao Sun

Abstract

In early January 2014, an Arctic air outbreak brought extreme cold and heavy snowfall to central and eastern North America, causing widespread disruption and monetary losses. The media extensively reported the cold snap, including debate on whether human-induced climate change was partly responsible. Related to this, one particular hypothesis garnered considerable attention: that rapid Arctic sea ice loss may be increasing the risk of cold extremes in the midlatitudes. Here we use large ensembles of model simulations to explore how the risk of North American daily cold extremes is anticipated to change in the future, in response to increases in greenhouse gases and the component of that response solely due to Arctic sea ice loss. Specifically, we examine the changing probability of daily cold extremes as (un)common as the 7 January 2014 event. Projected increases in greenhouse gases decrease the likelihood of North American cold extremes in the future. Days as cold or colder than 7 January 2014 are still projected to occur in the mid-twenty-first century (2030–49), albeit less frequently than in the late twentieth century (1980–99). However, such events will cease to occur by the late twenty-first century (2080–99), assuming greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. Continued Arctic sea ice loss is a major driver of decreased—not increased—North America cold extremes. Projected Arctic sea ice loss alone reduces the odds of such an event by one-quarter to one-third by the mid-twenty-first century, and to zero (or near zero) by the late twenty-first century.

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Saffron J. O'Neill, Mike Hulme, John Turnpenny, and James A. Screen
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Thomas Spengler, Ian A. Renfrew, Annick Terpstra, Michael Tjernström, James Screen, Ian M. Brooks, Andrew Carleton, Dmitry Chechin, Linling Chen, James Doyle, Igor Esau, Paul J. Hezel, Thomas Jung, Tsubasa Kohyama, Christof Lüpkes, Kelly E. McCusker, Tiina Nygård, Denis Sergeev, Matthew D. Shupe, Harald Sodemann, and Timo Vihma
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