Climate Dynamics

, Volume 42, Issue 5–6, pp 1383–1404 | Cite as

Transient twenty-first century changes in daily-scale temperature extremes in the United States

  • Martin SchererEmail author
  • Noah S. Diffenbaugh


A key question for climate mitigation and adaptation decisions is how quickly significant changes in temperature extremes will emerge as greenhouse gas concentrations increase, and whether that emergence will be uniform between hot and cold extremes and across different geographic areas. We use a high-resolution, multi-member ensemble climate model experiment over the United States (U.S.) to investigate the transient response of the annual frequency, duration and magnitude of 8 daily-scale extreme temperature indices during the twenty-first century of the A1B emissions scenario. We evaluate the time of emergence of a permanent exceedance (PE) above the colder part of the historical (1980–2009) extremes distribution, and the time of emergence of a new norm (NN) centered on the historical maxima (for hot extremes) or minima (for cold extremes). We find that during the twenty-first century, hot extremes permanently exceed the historical distribution’s colder half over large areas of the U.S., and that the hot extremes distribution also becomes centered on or above the historical distribution’s maxima. The changes are particularly robust for the exceedance of the annual 95th percentile of daily maximum temperature over the West and the Northeast (with the earliest emergence of a PE by 2030 and of a NN by 2040), for warm days over the Southwest (with the earliest emergence of a PE by 2020 and of a NN by 2030), and tropical nights over the eastern U.S. (with the earliest emergence of a PE by 2020 and of a NN by 2030). Conversely, no widespread emergence of a PE or a NN is found for most cold extremes. Exceptions include frost day frequency (with a widespread emergence of a PE below the historical median frequency by 2030 and of a NN by 2040 over the western U.S.), and cold night frequency (with an emergence of a PE below the historical median frequency by 2040 and of a NN by 2060 in virtually the entire U.S.). Our analysis implies a transition over the next half century to a climate of recently unprecedented heat stress in many parts of the U.S., along with cold extremes that, although less frequent, remain at times as long and as severe as are found in the current climate.


Hot extreme Cold extreme Regional climate model RegCM3 Transient change Time of emergence (TOE) 



We thank two anonymous reviewers for their insightful and constructive comments. The CAM3 and RegCM3 simulations were generated and stored using computing resources provided by the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing (RCAC) at Purdue University, and analyzed using computing resources provided by the Center for Computational Earth and Environmental Science (CEES) at Stanford University. We thank the NCAR CCSM3 Climate Change Working Group for access to the CCSM3 simulations at NCAR. We thank the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD for providing NCEP data, at, and the PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, for providing their data at Our work was supported by NIH award 1R01AI090159-01.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Earth System Science, Woods Institute for the EnvironmentStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Purdue Climate Change Research CenterPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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