Warming trends in summer heatwaves

Chapman, S. C.; Watkins, Nicholas and Stainforth, D. A. (2019). Warming trends in summer heatwaves. Geophysical Research Letters, 46(3) pp. 1634–1640.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1029/2018gl081004


The frequency and severity of heatwaves is expected to increase as the global climate warms. We apply crossing theory for the first time to determine heatwave properties solely from the distribution of daily observations without time‐correlation information. We use Central England Temperature timeseries to quantify how the simple increased occurrence of higher temperatures makes heatwaves (consecutive summer days with temperatures exceeding a threshold) more frequent and intense. We find an overall 2‐3‐fold increase in heatwave activity since the late 1800's. Week‐long heatwaves that on average return every 5 years were typically below ∼28°C and now typically exceed it. Our analysis takes as inputs average user‐specific heatwave properties. Its output pinpoints the range of temperatures for which changes in the distribution must be well‐resolved statistically in order to track how these heatwave properties are changing. This provides a quantitative benchmark for models used for the attribution of heatwaves.

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