Surface weather conditions are closely governed by the large-scale circulation of the Earth's atmosphere. Recent increases in the occurrence of some extreme weather phenomena have led to multiple mechanistic hypotheses linking changes in atmospheric circulation to increasing probability of extreme events. However, observed evidence of long-term change in atmospheric circulation remains inconclusive. Here we identify statistically significant trends in the occurrence of atmospheric circulation patterns, which partially explain observed trends in surface temperature extremes over seven mid-latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Using self-organizing map cluster analysis, we detect robust circulation pattern trends in a subset of these regions during both the satellite observation era (1979-2013) and the recent period of rapid Arctic sea-ice decline (1990-2013). Particularly substantial influences include the contribution of increasing trends in anticyclonic circulations to summer and autumn hot extremes over portions of Eurasia and North America, and the contribution of increasing trends in northerly flow to winter cold extremes over central Asia. Our results indicate that although a substantial portion of the observed change in extreme temperature occurrence has resulted from regional- and global-scale thermodynamic changes, the risk of extreme temperatures over some regions has also been altered by recent changes in the frequency, persistence and maximum duration of regional circulation patterns.
Comment In: Nature. 2015 Jun 25;522(7557):425-726108848
The recent levelling of global mean temperatures after the late 1990s, the so-called global warming hiatus or slowdown, ignited a surge of scientific interest into natural global mean surface temperature variability, observed temperature biases, and climate communication, but many questions remain about how these findings relate to variations in more societally relevant temperature extremes. Here we show that both summertime warm and wintertime cold extreme occurrences increased over land during the so-called hiatus period, and that these increases occurred for distinct reasons. The increase in cold extremes is associated with an atmospheric circulation pattern resembling the warm Arctic-cold continents pattern, whereas the increase in warm extremes is tied to a pattern of sea surface temperatures resembling the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. These findings indicate that large-scale factors responsible for the most societally relevant temperature variations over continents are distinct from those of global mean surface temperature.