A model study of heat waves over North America: Meteorological aspects and projections for the twenty-first century

Ngar Cheung Lau, Mary Jo Nath

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The characteristics of summertime heat waves in North America are examined using reanalysis data and simulations by two general circulation models with horizontal resolution of 50 and 200 km. Several ''key regions'' with spatially coherent and high amplitude fluctuations in daily surface air temperature are identified. The typical synoptic features accompanying warm episodes in these regions are described. The averaged intensity, duration, and frequency of occurrence of the heat waves in various key regions, as simulated in the two models for twentieth-century climate, are in general agreement with the results based on reanalysis data. The impact of climate change on the heat wave characteristics in various key regions is assessed by contrasting model runs based on a scenario for the twenty-first century with those for the twentieth century. Both models indicate considerable increases in the duration and frequency of heat wave episodes, and in number of heat wave days per year, during the twenty-first century. The duration and frequency statistics of the heat waves in the mid-twenty-first century, as generated by the model with 50-km resolution, can be reproduced by adding the projected warming trend to the daily temperature data for the late twentieth century, and then recomputing these statistics. The detailed evolution of the averaged intensity, duration, and frequency of the heat waves through individual decades of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as simulated and projected by the model with 200-km resolution, indicates that the upward trend in these heat wave measures should become apparent in the early decades of the twenty-first century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4761-4764
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Climate change
  • Climate models
  • Climate variability
  • Extreme events
  • Summer/warm season
  • Surface temperature


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