Extension and Intensification of the Meso-American mid-summer drought in the twenty-first century
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Recent global-scale analyses of the CMIP3 model projections for the twenty-first century indicate a strong, coherent decreased precipitation response over Central America and the Intra-America Seas region. We explore this regional response and examine the models’ skill in representing present-day climate over this region. For much of Central America, the annual cycle of precipitation is characterized by a rainy season that extends from May to October with a period of reduced precipitation in July and August called the mid-summer drought. A comparison of the climate of the twentieth century simulations (20c3m) with observations over the period 1961–1990 shows that nearly all models underestimate precipitation over Central America, due in part to an underestimation of sea surface temperatures over the tropical North Atlantic and an excessively smooth representation of regional topographical features. However, many of the models capture the mid-summer drought. Differences between the A1B scenario (2061–2090) and 20c3m (1961–1990) simulations show decreased precipitation in the future climate scenario, mostly in June and July, just before and during the onset of the mid-summer drought. We thus hypothesize that the simulated twenty-first century drying over Central America represents an early onset and intensification of the mid-summer drought. An analysis of circulation changes indicates that the westward expansion and intensification of the North Atlantic subtropical high associated with the mid-summer drought occurs earlier in the A1B simulations, along with stronger low-level easterlies. The eastern Pacific inter-tropical convergence zone is also located further southward in the scenario simulations. There are some indications that these changes could be forced by ENSO-like warming of the tropical eastern Pacific and increased land–ocean heating contrasts over the North American continent.