14.3 Assumptions about future trends
Recent climate model simulations (Ruosteenoja et al., 2003) indicate that by the 2010 to 2039 time slice, year-round temperatures across North America will be outside the range of present-day natural variability, based on 1000 year Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Model (AOGCM) simulations with either the CGCM2 or HadCM3 climate models. For most combinations of model, scenario, season and region, warming in the 2010 to 2039 time slice will be in the range of 1 to 3ºC. Late in the century, projected annual warming is likely to be 2 to 3°C across the western, southern, and eastern continental edges, but more than 5ºC at high latitudes (Christensen et al., 2007: Section 126.96.36.199). The projected warming is greatest in winter at high latitudes and greatest in the summer in the south-west U.S. Warm extremes across North America are projected to become both more frequent and longer (Christensen et al., 2007: Section 188.8.131.52).
Annual-mean precipitation is projected to decrease in the south-west of the U.S. but increase over the rest of the continent (Christensen et al., 2007: Section 184.108.40.206). Increases in precipitation in Canada are projected to be in the range of +20% for the annual mean and +30% for the winter. Some studies project widespread increases in extreme precipitation (Christensen et al., 2007: Section 220.127.116.11), with greater risks of not only flooding from intense precipitation, but also droughts from greater temporal variability in precipitation. In general, projected changes in precipitation extremes are larger than changes in mean precipitation (Meehl et al., 2007: Section 10.3.6.1)
Future trends in hurricane frequency and intensity remain very uncertain. Experiments with climate models with sufficient resolution to depict some aspects of individual hurricanes tend to project some increases in both peak wind speeds and precipitation intensities (Meehl et al., 2007: Section 10.3.6.3). The pattern is clearer for extra-tropical storms, which are likely to become more intense, but perhaps less frequent, leading to increased extreme wave heights in the mid-latitudes (Meehl et al., 2007: Section 10.3.6.4).
El Niño events are associated with increased precipitation and severe storms in some regions, such as the south-east U.S., and higher precipitation in the Great Basin of the western U.S., but warmer temperatures and decreased precipitation in other areas such as the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, and parts of Alaska (Ropelewski and Halpert, 1986; Shabbar et al., 1997). Recent analyses indicate no consistent future trends in El Niño amplitude or frequency (Meehl et al., 2007: Section 10.3.5.4).