CR 19:193-212 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/cr019193

Observed coherent changes in climatic extremes during the second half of the twentieth century

P. Frich1,*, L. V. Alexander1,**, P. Della-Marta2, B. Gleason3, M. Haylock2, A. M. G. Klein Tank4, T. Peterson3

1Met Office, Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, London Road, Bracknell RG12 2SY, United Kingdom
2Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), GPO Box 1289K, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia
3National Climatic Data Centre (NCDC), 151 Patton Avenue, Asheville, North Carolina 28801, USA
4Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), Postbus 201, 3730 AE De Bilt, The Netherlands
*Present address: National Environmental Research Institute (NERI), Postboks 358, Frederiksborgvij 399, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark. **Corresponding author. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: A new global dataset of derived indicators has been compiled to clarify whether frequency and/or severity of climatic extremes changed during the second half of the 20th century. This period provides the best spatial coverage of homogenous daily series, which can be used for calculating the proportion of global land area exhibiting a significant change in extreme or severe weather. The authors chose 10 indicators of extreme climatic events, defined from a larger selection, that could be applied to a large variety of climates. It was assumed that data producers were more inclined to release derived data in the form of annual indicator time series than releasing their original daily observations. The indicators are based on daily maximum and minimum temperature series, as well as daily totals of precipitation, and represent changes in all seasons of the year. Only time series which had 40 yr or more of almost complete records were used. A total of about 3000 indicator time series were extracted from national climate archives and collated into the unique dataset described here. Global maps showing significant changes from one multi-decadal period to another during the interval from 1946 to 1999 were produced. Coherent spatial patterns of statistically significant changes emerge, particularly an increase in warm summer nights, a decrease in the number of frost days and a decrease in intra-annual extreme temperature range. All but one of the temperature-based indicators show a significant change. Indicators based on daily precipitation data show more mixed patterns of change but significant increases have been seen in the extreme amount derived from wet spells and number of heavy rainfall events. We can conclude that a significant proportion of the global land area was increasingly affected by a significant change in climatic extremes during the second half of the 20th century. These clear signs of change are very robust; however, large areas are still not represented, especially Africa and South America.

KEY WORDS: Observed climatic extremes · Derived indicators · Temperature · Precipitation · Climate monitoring · Global change

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