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Yolande L. Serra and Kerrie Geil

Abstract

The tracks of westward-propagating synoptic disturbances across the Intra-Americas Sea (IAS) and far-eastern Pacific, known as easterly waves or tropical depression (TD) waves, are an important feature of the region’s climate. They are associated with heavy rainfall events, seed the majority of tropical cyclones, and contribute to the mean rainfall across the region. This study examines the ability of current climate models (CMIP5) to simulate TD-wave activity and associated environmental factors across the IAS and far-eastern Pacific as compared to reanalysis. Model projections for the future are then compared with the historical model experiment to investigate the southward shift in CMIP5 track density and the environmental factors that may contribute to it. While historical biases in TD-wave track-density patterns are well correlated with model biases in sea surface temperature and midlevel moisture, the projected southward shift of the TD track density by the end of the twenty-first century in CMIP5 models is best correlated with changes in deep wind shear and midlevel moisture. In addition, the genesis potential index is found to be a good indicator of both present and future regions of high TD-wave track density for the models in this region. This last result may be useful for understanding the more complex relationship between tropical cyclones and this index in models found in other studies.

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Kerrie L. Geil, Yolande L. Serra, and Xubin Zeng

Abstract

Precipitation, geopotential height, and wind fields from 21 models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) are examined to determine how well this generation of general circulation models represents the North American monsoon system (NAMS). Results show no improvement since CMIP3 in the magnitude (root-mean-square error and bias) of the mean annual cycle of monthly precipitation over a core monsoon domain, but improvement in the phasing of the seasonal cycle in precipitation is notable. Monsoon onset is early for most models but is clearly visible in daily climatological precipitation, whereas monsoon retreat is highly variable and unclear in daily climatological precipitation. Models that best capture large-scale circulation patterns at a low level usually have realistic representations of the NAMS, but even the best models poorly represent monsoon retreat. Difficulty in reproducing monsoon retreat results from an inaccurate representation of gradients in low-level geopotential height across the larger region, which causes an unrealistic flux of low-level moisture from the tropics into the NAMS region that extends well into the postmonsoon season. Composites of the models with the best and worst representations of the NAMS indicate that adequate representation of the monsoon during the early to midseason can be achieved even with a large-scale circulation pattern bias, as long as the bias is spatially consistent over the larger region influencing monsoon development; in other words, as with monsoon retreat, it is the inaccuracy of the spatial gradients in geopotential height across the larger region that prevents some models from realistic representation of the early and midseason monsoon system.

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Justin Sheffield, Andrew P. Barrett, Brian Colle, D. Nelun Fernando, Rong Fu, Kerrie L. Geil, Qi Hu, Jim Kinter, Sanjiv Kumar, Baird Langenbrunner, Kelly Lombardo, Lindsey N. Long, Eric Maloney, Annarita Mariotti, Joyce E. Meyerson, Kingtse C. Mo, J. David Neelin, Sumant Nigam, Zaitao Pan, Tong Ren, Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas, Yolande L. Serra, Anji Seth, Jeanne M. Thibeault, Julienne C. Stroeve, Ze Yang, and Lei Yin

Abstract

This is the first part of a three-part paper on North American climate in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) that evaluates the historical simulations of continental and regional climatology with a focus on a core set of 17 models. The authors evaluate the models for a set of basic surface climate and hydrological variables and their extremes for the continent. This is supplemented by evaluations for selected regional climate processes relevant to North American climate, including cool season western Atlantic cyclones, the North American monsoon, the U.S. Great Plains low-level jet, and Arctic sea ice. In general, the multimodel ensemble mean represents the observed spatial patterns of basic climate and hydrological variables but with large variability across models and regions in the magnitude and sign of errors. No single model stands out as being particularly better or worse across all analyses, although some models consistently outperform the others for certain variables across most regions and seasons and higher-resolution models tend to perform better for regional processes. The CMIP5 multimodel ensemble shows a slight improvement relative to CMIP3 models in representing basic climate variables, in terms of the mean and spread, although performance has decreased for some models. Improvements in CMIP5 model performance are noticeable for some regional climate processes analyzed, such as the timing of the North American monsoon. The results of this paper have implications for the robustness of future projections of climate and its associated impacts, which are examined in the third part of the paper.

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Eric D. Maloney, Suzana J. Camargo, Edmund Chang, Brian Colle, Rong Fu, Kerrie L. Geil, Qi Hu, Xianan Jiang, Nathaniel Johnson, Kristopher B. Karnauskas, James Kinter, Benjamin Kirtman, Sanjiv Kumar, Baird Langenbrunner, Kelly Lombardo, Lindsey N. Long, Annarita Mariotti, Joyce E. Meyerson, Kingtse C. Mo, J. David Neelin, Zaitao Pan, Richard Seager, Yolande Serra, Anji Seth, Justin Sheffield, Julienne Stroeve, Jeanne Thibeault, Shang-Ping Xie, Chunzai Wang, Bruce Wyman, and Ming Zhao

Abstract

In part III of a three-part study on North American climate in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) models, the authors examine projections of twenty-first-century climate in the representative concentration pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) emission experiments. This paper summarizes and synthesizes results from several coordinated studies by the authors. Aspects of North American climate change that are examined include changes in continental-scale temperature and the hydrologic cycle, extremes events, and storm tracks, as well as regional manifestations of these climate variables. The authors also examine changes in the eastern North Pacific and North Atlantic tropical cyclone activity and North American intraseasonal to decadal variability, including changes in teleconnections to other regions of the globe. Projected changes are generally consistent with those previously published for CMIP3, although CMIP5 model projections differ importantly from those of CMIP3 in some aspects, including CMIP5 model agreement on increased central California precipitation. The paper also highlights uncertainties and limitations based on current results as priorities for further research. Although many projected changes in North American climate are consistent across CMIP5 models, substantial intermodel disagreement exists in other aspects. Areas of disagreement include projections of changes in snow water equivalent on a regional basis, summer Arctic sea ice extent, the magnitude and sign of regional precipitation changes, extreme heat events across the northern United States, and Atlantic and east Pacific tropical cyclone activity.

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