Summer weather becomes more persistent in a 2 °C world

Abstract

Heat and rainfall extremes have intensified over the past few decades and this trend is projected to continue with future global warming1,2,3. A long persistence of extreme events often leads to societal impacts with warm-and-dry conditions severely affecting agriculture and consecutive days of heavy rainfall leading to flooding. Here we report systematic increases in the persistence of boreal summer weather in a multi-model analysis of a world 2 °C above pre-industrial compared to present-day climate. Averaged over the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitude land area, the probability of warm periods lasting longer than two weeks is projected to increase by 4% (2–6% full uncertainty range) after removing seasonal-mean warming. Compound dry–warm persistence increases at a similar magnitude on average but regionally up to 20% (11–42%) in eastern North America. The probability of at least seven consecutive days of strong precipitation increases by 26% (15–37%) for the mid-latitudes. We present evidence that weakening storm track activity contributes to the projected increase in warm and dry persistence. These changes in persistence are largely avoided when warming is limited to 1.5 °C. In conjunction with the projected intensification of heat and rainfall extremes, an increase in persistence can substantially worsen the effects of future weather extremes.

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Fig. 1: Illustration of the persistence metrics.
Fig. 2: Persistence climatology for the NH mid-latitudes in JJA.
Fig. 3: Relative change in exceedance probability in JJA in HAPPI models.
Fig. 4: Drivers of changes in persistence.
Fig. 5: Relative change in exceedance probability distributions for 2 °C and 1.5 °C worlds versus 2006–2015 in HAPPI models.

Data availability

The observational data and HAPPI simulations that support the findings of this study are publicly available online at https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadghcnd, https://www.ecad.eu/download/ensembles/download.php and https://portal.nersc.gov/c20c/data.html.

Code availability

Python scripts used for the analysis are available on github.com/peterpeterp/persistence_in_HAPPI.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the HAPPI initiative and all participating modelling groups that have provided data. This research used science gateway resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a Science User Facility supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231. We thank the Met Office Hadley Centre for providing the HadGHCND dataset. We acknowledge the E-OBS dataset from the EU-FP6 project ENSEMBLES (http://ensembles-eu.metoffice.com) and the data providers in the ECA&D project (http://www.ecad.eu). P.P. and C.-F.S. acknowledge support by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (01LN1711A). K.K. is supported by the UK NERC, NCAS and NERC grant nos NE/P006779/1 and NE/N018001/1. This work was supported by the BMBF (grant no. 01LN1304A to D.C.) and the NWO (grant no. 016.Vidi.171011 to D.C.).

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P.P., C.-F.S., K.K. and D.C. conceived the study. P.P. analysed the data. P.P. wrote the manuscript with contributions from all authors.

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Correspondence to Peter Pfleiderer.

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Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Peter Gibson and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–9 and Tables 1–4.

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Pfleiderer, P., Schleussner, CF., Kornhuber, K. et al. Summer weather becomes more persistent in a 2 °C world. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 666–671 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0555-0

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