Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
22 Jan 2007
22 Jan 2007

Possible impacts of climate change on freezing rain in south-central Canada using downscaled future climate scenarios

C. S. Cheng, H. Auld, G. Li, J. Klaassen, and Q. Li

Abstract. Freezing rain is a major atmospheric hazard in mid-latitude nations of the globe. Among all Canadian hydrometeorological hazards, freezing rain is associated with the highest damage costs per event. Using synoptic weather typing to identify the occurrence of freezing rain events, this study estimates changes in future freezing rain events under future climate scenarios for south-central Canada. Synoptic weather typing consists of principal components analysis, an average linkage clustering procedure (i.e., a hierarchical agglomerative cluster method), and discriminant function analysis (a nonhierarchical method). Meteorological data used in the analysis included hourly surface observations from 15 selected weather stations and six atmospheric levels of six-hourly National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) upper-air reanalysis weather variables for the winter months (November–April) of 1958/59–2000/01. A statistical downscaling method was used to downscale four general circulation model (GCM) scenarios to the selected weather stations. Using downscaled scenarios, discriminant function analysis was used to project the occurrence of future weather types. The within-type frequency of future freezing rain events is assumed to be directly proportional to the change in frequency of future freezing rain-related weather types

The results showed that with warming temperatures in a future climate, percentage increases in the occurrence of freezing rain events in the north of the study area are likely to be greater than those in the south. By the 2050s, freezing rain events for the three colder months (December–February) could increase by about 85% (95% confidence interval – CI: ±13%), 60% (95% CI: ±9%), and 40% (95% CI: ±6%) in northern Ontario, eastern Ontario (including Montreal, Quebec), and southern Ontario, respectively. The increase by the 2080s could be even greater: about 135% (95% CI: ±20%), 95% (95% CI: ±13%), and 45% (95% CI: ±9%). For the three warmer months (November, March, April), the percentage increases in future freezing rain events are projected to be much smaller with some areas showing either a decrease or little change in frequency of freezing rain. On average, northern Ontario could experience about 10% (95% CI: ±2%) and 20% (95% CI: ±4%) more freezing rain events by the 2050s and 2080s, respectively. However, future freezing rain events in southern Ontario could decrease about 10% (95% CI: ±3%) and 15% (95% CI: ±5%) by the 2050s and 2080s, respectively. In eastern Ontario (including Montreal, Quebec), the frequency of future freezing rain events is projected to remain the same as it is currently.