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Sophie C. Lewis, Andrew D. King, and Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick


The term “new normal” has been used in scientific literature and public commentary to contextualize contemporary climate events as an indicator of a changing climate due to enhanced greenhouse warming. A new normal has been used broadly but tends to be descriptive and ambiguously defined. Here we review previous studies conceptualizing this idea of a new climatological normal and argue that this term should be used cautiously and with explicit definition in order to avoid confusion. We provide a formal definition of a new climate normal relative to present based around record-breaking contemporary events and explore the timing of when such extremes become statistically normal in the future model simulations. Applying this method to the record-breaking global-average 2015 temperatures as a reference event and a suite of model climate models, we determine that 2015 global annual-average temperatures will be the new normal by 2040 in all emissions scenarios. At the regional level, a new normal can be delayed through aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Using this specific case study to investigate a climatological new normal, our approach demonstrates the greater value of the concept of a climatological new normal for understanding and communicating climate change when the term is explicitly defined. This approach moves us one step closer to understanding how current extremes will change in the future in a warming world.

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Peter B. Gibson, Andrew J. Pitman, Ruth Lorenz, and Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick


Understanding the physical drivers of heat waves is essential for improving short-term forecasts of individual events and long-term projections of heat waves under climate change. This study provides the first analysis of the influence of the large-scale circulation on Australian heat waves, conditional on the land surface conditions. Circulation types, sourced from reanalysis, are used to characterize the different large-scale circulation patterns that drive heat wave events across Australia. The importance of horizontal temperature advection is illustrated in these circulation patterns, and the pattern occurrence frequency is shown to reorganize through different modes of climate variability. It is further shown that the relative likelihood of a particular synoptic situation being associated with a heat wave is strongly modulated by the localized partitioning of available energy between surface sensible and latent heat fluxes (as measured through evaporative fraction) in many regions in reanalysis data. In particular, a several-fold increase in the likelihood of heat wave day occurrence is found during days of reduced evaporative fraction under favorable circulation conditions. The atmospheric circulation and land surface conditions linked to heat waves in reanalysis were then examined in the context of CMIP5 climate model projections. Large uncertainty was found to exist for many regions, especially in terms of the direction of future land surface changes and in terms of the magnitude of atmospheric circulation changes. Efforts to constrain uncertainty in both atmospheric and land surface processes in climate models, while challenging, should translate to more robust regional projections of heat waves.

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Eric C. J. Oliver, Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Neil J. Holbrook, and Nathaniel L. Bindoff
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Sophie C. Lewis, Stephanie A.P. Blake, Blair Trewin, Mitchell T. Black, Andrew J. Dowdy, Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Andrew D. King, and Jason J. Sharples
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