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Ice storm frequencies in a warmer climate


Ice storms can produce extensive damage to physical infrastructure, cause deaths and injuries, and result in large losses through business interruption. Total costs can be billions of dollars. If society is to increase its resilience to such events, we need a better understanding of the likely frequency, intensity and geographical distribution of ice storms. Unfortunately, due to competing temperature and precipitation effects as well as surface effects, it is unclear how climate change will affect the frequency, intensity and geographical distribution of ice storms. Here we perform a simple “thought experiment” using vertical temperature profile data to explore how these might change given plausible future temperature regimes. As temperatures increase, we find a poleward shift and a shift toward winter. Furthermore, southern locations experience fewer ice storms at all times of the year, while northern areas experience fewer in the spring and fall and more in the winter. Using an approximation for surface effects, we estimate that a temperature increase will result in an increased frequency of ice storm events throughout much of the winter across eastern Canada and in the U.S. west of the Appalachian Mountains as far south as Tennessee. Future changes in variability may enhance or moderate these changes.

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  1. Please recall that we enacted a uniform temperature increase across all areas as opposed to differential heating in different places as might be expected from a globally averaged temperature change. For this reason the results should be interpreted only as changes in local temperature changes and not as a globally averaged warming.

  2. For example, it is unclear whether a Scenario A temperature increase of 2 °C would be equivalent to a Scenario B temperature increase of a) 4 °C above 850 hPa and 2 °C below 850 hPa (match the surface temperatures), b) 2 °C above 850 hPa and 1 °C below 850 hPa (match the temperatures above 850 hPa), or c) 2.66 °C above 850 hPa and 1.33 °C below 850 hPa (match an average temperature).


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We thank the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center and the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making (created through a cooperative agreement between the NSF (SES-0345798) and Carnegie Mellon. Also thanks for significant support and input from the University of Wyoming for providing the temperature soundings, from Professor John Gyakum of McGill for suggestions on the design of the non-uniform temperature increase experiment, and from Carnegie Mellon’s Patti Steranchak for reviewing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kelly Klima.

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Klima, K., Morgan, M.G. Ice storm frequencies in a warmer climate. Climatic Change 133, 209–222 (2015).

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  • General Circulation Model
  • Thought Experiment
  • Polar Vortex
  • Statistical Downscaling
  • Warming Scenario