Climatic Change

, Volume 146, Issue 3–4, pp 377–392 | Cite as

Avoided climate impacts of urban and rural heat and cold waves over the U.S. using large climate model ensembles for RCP8.5 and RCP4.5

  • K. W. OlesonEmail author
  • G. B. Anderson
  • B. Jones
  • S. A. McGinnis
  • B. Sanderson


Previous studies examining future changes in heat/cold waves using climate model ensembles have been limited to grid cell-average quantities. Here, we make use of an urban parameterization in the Community Earth System Model (CESM) that represents the urban heat island effect, which can exacerbate extreme heat but may ameliorate extreme cold in urban relative to rural areas. Heat/cold wave characteristics are derived for U.S. regions from a bias-corrected CESM 30-member ensemble for climate outcomes driven by the RCP8.5 forcing scenario and a 15-member ensemble driven by RCP4.5. Significant differences are found between urban and grid cell-average heat/cold wave characteristics. Most notably, urban heat waves for 1981–2005 are more intense than grid cell-average by 2.1 °C (southeast) to 4.6 °C (southwest), while cold waves are less intense. We assess the avoided climate impacts of urban heat/cold waves in 2061–2080 when following the lower forcing scenario. Urban heat wave days per year increase from 6 in 1981–2005 to up to 92 (southeast) in RCP8.5. Following RCP4.5 reduces heat wave days by about 50 %. Large avoided impacts are demonstrated for individual communities; e.g., the longest heat wave for Houston in RCP4.5 is 38 days while in RCP8.5 there is one heat wave per year that is longer than a month with some lasting the entire summer. Heat waves also start later in the season in RCP4.5 (earliest are in early May) than RCP8.5 (mid-April), compared to 1981–2005 (late May). In some communities, cold wave events decrease from 2 per year for 1981–2005 to one-in-five year events in RCP4.5 and one-in-ten year events in RCP8.5.



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant Number AGS-1243095. K.W. Oleson was supported in part by NASA grant NNX10AK79G (the SIMMER project) and the NCAR Weather and Climate Impacts Assessment Science Program (WCIASP). G.B. Anderson was supported by NIEHS grants K99ES022631 and R21ES020152. We thank C. Tebaldi and B. O’Neill for comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and J.-F. Lamarque for useful discussions about heat/cold waves. We thank the reviewers for their insightful and constructive comments that substantially improved the manuscript. NCAR is sponsored by the NSF.

Supplementary material

10584_2015_1504_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.9 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 2983 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. W. Oleson
    • 1
    Email author
  • G. B. Anderson
    • 2
  • B. Jones
    • 3
  • S. A. McGinnis
    • 1
  • B. Sanderson
    • 1
  1. 1.National Center for Atmospheric ResearchBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental & Radiological Health SciencesColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.CUNY Institute for Demographic ResearchNew YorkUSA

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