Regional climate model projections and uncertainties of U.S. summer heat waves

Kenneth E. Kunkel, Xin-Zhong Liang, Jinhong Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Regional climate model (RCM) simulations, driven by low and high climate-sensitivity coupled general circulation models (CGCMs) under various future emissions scenarios, were compared to projected changes in heat wave characteristics. The RCM downscaling reduces the CGCM biases in heat wave threshold temperature by a factor of 2, suggesting a higher credibility in the future projections. All of the RCM simulations suggest that there is a high probability of heat waves of unprecedented severity by the end of the twenty-first century if a high emissions path is followed. In particular, the annual 3-day heat wave temperature increases generally by 3°-8°C; the number of heat wave days increases by 30-60 day yr -1 over much of the western and southern United States with slightly smaller increases elsewhere; the variance spectra for intermediate, 3-7 days (prolonged, 7-14 days), temperature extremes increase (decrease) in the central (western) United States. If a lower emissions path is followed, then the outcomes range from quite small changes to substantial increases. In all cases, the mean temperature climatological shift is the dominant change in heat wave characteristics, suggesting that adaptation and acclimatization could reduce effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4447-4458
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • ISWS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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