Regional climate model projections for the State of Washington


Salath√©, E.P., Leung, L.R., Qian, Y., Zhang, Y. ¬†2009.¬†Regional climate model projections for the State of Washington. Chapter 2 in The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment: Evaluating Washington’s Future in a Changing Climate, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.


Global climate models do not have sufficient spatial resolution to represent the atmospheric and land surface processes that determine the unique regional heterogeneity of the climate of the State of Washington. If future large-scale weather patterns interact differently with the local terrain and coastlines than current weather patterns, local changes in temperature and precipitation could be quite different from the coarse-scale changes projected by global models.

Regional climate models explicitly simulate the interactions between the large-scale weather patterns simulated by a global model and the local terrain. We have performed two 100-year climate simulations using the Weather and Research Forecasting (WRF) model developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). One simulation is forced by the NCAR Community Climate System Model version 3 (CCSM3) and the second is forced by a simulation of the Max Plank Institute, Hamburg, global model (ECHAM5).

The mesoscale simulations produce regional changes in snow cover, cloudiness, and circulation patterns associated with interactions between the large-scale climate change and the regional topography and land-water contrasts. These changes substantially alter the temperature and precipitation trends over the region relative to the global model result or statistical downscaling. To illustrate this effect, we analyze the changes from the current climate (1970-1999) to the mid 21st century (2030-2059). Changes in seasonal-mean temperature, precipitation, and snowpack are presented. Several climatological indices of extreme daily weather are also presented: precipitation intensity, fraction of precipitation occurring in extreme daily events, heat wave frequency, growing season length, and frequency of warm nights. Despite somewhat different changes in seasonal precipitation and temperature from the two regional simulations, consistent results for changes in snowpack and extreme precipitation are found in both simulations.