Monday, February 22, 2010

Record High Temperatures in the continental U.S.

A recently released study by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) on temperatures in the continental U.S. showed that record highs increased from January 1, 2000 to September 30, 2009. Althougth the study was conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), it is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), a non-profit consortium of over 100 North American university members and affiliates.

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The study found the continental U.S. had 291,237 record highs and 142,420 record lows. A record daily high means temperatures are warmer “on a given day than on that same date throughout a weather station’s history.” If temperatures are not warming, according to the study, the number of record daily highs and lows each year would be even.

The warming during the time period studied was worse in the western U.S. than in the East. The ratio in the West was over 2-to-1, and in the East it was 1 ½ -to-1. Computer models used by the authors indicate that if countries continue to increase their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the U.S. ratio of daily record of high to low temperatures would increase to about 20-to-1 by mid-century and 50-to1 by 2100. However, the mid-century ratio could be “much higher” if GHG emissions increased at a greater rate, or 8-to-1 if significantly reduced.

Climate change is making itself felt in terms of day-to-day weather in the United States,” said Gerald Meehl, the lead author and a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “The ways these records are being broken show how our climate is already shifting.”

One of the messages of this study is that you still get cold days,” Meehl said. “Winter still comes. Even in a much warmer climate, we're setting record low minimum temperatures on a few days each year. But the odds are shifting so there's a much better chance of daily record highs instead of lows.”

If the climate weren't changing, you would expect the number of temperature records to diminish significantly over time,” said Claudia Tebaldi, a statistician with Climate Central who is one of the paper's co-authors. “As you measure the high and low daily temperatures each year, it normally becomes more difficult to break a record after a number of years. But as the average temperatures continue to rise this century, we will keep setting more record highs.”

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