New Paper “Climatic Trends In Major U.S. Urban Areas, 1950–2009” By Mishra and Lettenmaier

There is a new paper

Mishra, V., and D. P. Lettenmaier (2011), Climatic trends in major U.S. urban areas, 1950–2009, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L16401, doi:10.1029/ 2011GL048255

which reports on the effect of urban areas on multi-decadal surface temperature trends.

 The abstract reads [highlight added]

We evaluate changes in climatic indices for the 100 largest U.S. urban areas and paired surrounding non‐urban areas. During the period 1950–2009, we find that there were statistically significant changes in as many as half of the urban areas in temperature‐related indices, such as heating and cooling degree‐days and number of warm and cool nights, almost all of which are reflective of a general warming. Similarly, statistically significant changes (mostly increases) in indices related to extreme precipitation, such as daily maximum intensities and number of days with heavy precipitation, were detected in as many of 30% of the urban areas. A paired analysis of urban and surrounding non‐urban areas suggests that most temperature‐related trends are attributable to regional climate change, rather than to local effects of urbanization, although the picture is more mixed for precipitation.

Among the conclusions

Consistent with previous studies [Easterling et al., 2000; Kalnay and Cai, 2003], trends related to temperature minima in the urban areas are generally stronger than those related to temperature maxima.

For both minimum daily temperature based climate indices and precipitation‐related trends, changes in urban and non‐urban areas are generally consistent; suggesting that the trends are dominantly a response to climate [Parker, 2004; Peterson, 2003], rather than local land cover changes during the period of analysis. However, there is somewhat less consistency in urban vs. non‐urban trends in climate indices related to daily maximum temperature, which suggests that land cover change may be at least partially responsible for those trends.

An important cavaet to their study is that they have not factored in the role of microclimate changes at the observing sites which we have started to explore, as reported on in our paper

Fall, S., A. Watts, J. Nielsen-Gammon, E. Jones, D. Niyogi, J. Christy, and R.A. Pielke Sr., 2011: Analysis of the impacts of station exposure on the U.S. Historical Climatology Network temperatures and temperature trends. J. Geophys. Res., 116, D14120, doi:10.1029/2010JD015146.Copyright (2011) American Geophysical Union.

Their finding of leass of an effect on minimum temperature trends on whether they are located in urban or rural areas is, however, puzzling, as the urban heat island effect on minimum temperatures is very well know (e.g. see EPA heat island effect). Since the spatial scale, density of build-up and type of constructoins on urban areas continues to change over the time, the failure to find a difference between rural and urban areas needs more investigation as to whay this was found in the Mishra and  Lettenmaier analysis.

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