Chasing the tail: The importance of extremes in a changing climate
Climate extremes, ranging from transient heat waves and cold snaps to multi-year droughts and pluvials, have an outsized influence on ecosystems. Extreme-driven disturbances, recruitment episodes, extirpations, and colonizations leave ecological legacies that can persist for decades or more. Climate extremes comprise substantial challenges to both downscaling and forecasting. In the instrumental record, for example, temperature extremes often correlate poorly with variation in mean temperature. Forecasting is hampered because climate extremes of the future will be driven by interactions of seasonal, interannual, and decadal climate variability with longer-term global-change trends. Climate models vary widely in how they represent natural climate variability and its interactions with anthropogenic forcings.
Resource managers, policymakers, and conservation planners need robust frameworks for anticipating weather and climate extremes under global change. We explore various approaches to this problem, including assessing the extent to which past natural variability has modulated regional long-term trends, quantifying the extent to which natural annual to decadal variability of weather statistics can be predicted based on seasonal-prediction approaches, and investigating whether historical relationships among climate teleconnections and relationships are likely to remain stable under future climate projections.