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Keywords:

  • temperature trends;
  • weather trends;
  • geographic anomalies;
  • global change;
  • regional climate

Abstract

We evaluated long-term trends in average maximum and minimum temperatures, threshold temperatures, and growing season in eastern Colorado, USA, to explore the potential shortcomings of many climate-change studies that either: (1) generalize regional patterns from single stations, single seasons, or a few parameters over short duration from averaging dissimilar stations; or (2) generalize an average regional pattern from coarse-scale general circulation models. Based on 11 weather stations, some trends were weakly regionally consistent with previous studies of night-time temperature warming. Long-term (80 + years) mean minimum temperatures increased significantly (P < 0.2) in about half the stations in winter, spring, and autumn and six stations had significant decreases in the number of days per year with temperatures ≤ − 17.8 °C (≤0 °F). However, spatial and temporal variation in the direction of change was enormous for all the other weather parameters tested, and, in the majority of tests, few stations showed significant trends (even at P < 0.2). In summer, four stations had significant increases and three stations had significant decreases in minimum temperatures, producing a strongly mixed regional signal. Trends in maximum temperature varied seasonally and geographically, as did trends in threshold temperature days ≥32.2 °C (≥90 °F) or days ≥37.8 °C (≥100 °F). There was evidence of a sub-regional cooling in autumn's maximum temperatures, with five stations showing significant decreasing trends. There were many geographic anomalies where neighbouring weather stations differed greatly in the magnitude of change or where they had significant and opposite trends. We conclude that sub-regional spatial and seasonal variation cannot be ignored when evaluating the direction and magnitude of climate change. It is unlikely that one or a few weather stations are representative of regional climate trends, and equally unlikely that regionally projected climate change from coarse-scale general circulation models will accurately portray trends at sub-regional scales. However, the assessment of a group of stations for consistent more qualitative trends (such as the number of days less than −17.8 °C, such as we found) provides a reasonably robust procedure to evaluate climate trends and variability. Copyright © 2002 Royal Meteorological Society