Climatic changes in western North America, 1950–2005

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Abstract

The rate of climatic change over western North America (WNA) is quantified for 485 climate stations for the period 1950–2005. Additionally, six stations with quality long-term records were selected and analysed for the period 1906–2005. The indicators used were developed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the World Climate Research Program's Expert Team on Climate Change Detection, Monitoring and Indices (ETCCDMI). From the 27 core indices, 4 temperature-based and 4 precipitation-based indicators were selected for in-depth analysis. The 8 million km2 study area is comprised of the 22 contiguous US states and 4 Canadian provinces west of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes. The results were divided into six general regions for interpretation and presentation. GIS interpolation of station-specific statistical output was completed to further aid in the identification of spatially coherent trends across WNA. Mean slopes were calculated over the whole study area, and by region, for each index, and then tested to determine if they were significantly different from zero.

Results of the study show statistically significant historical climate trends across the study area. As expected in a region as geographically diverse as WNA, results differed between, and within, regions. Overall, temperature-based indicators showed a general warming trend over the entire study area, with the greatest increases along the North American Cordillera. The trends in precipitation-based indicators were more varied. General trends indicate moderately increasing precipitation volume and intensity over much of WNA. The strongest precipitation trends were found in areas with climate largely controlled by air masses originating over the Gulf of Mexico. Copyright © 2011 Royal Meteorological Society

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