National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2013

History of Pacific Northwest heat waves: Synoptic pattern and trends

Bumbaco, K.A., K.D. Dello, and N.A. Bond

J. Appl. Meteorol. Climatol., 52, 1618–1631, doi: 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-094.1 (2013)

A historical record of Pacific Northwest (defined here as west of the Cascade Mountains in Washington and Oregon) heat waves is identified using the U.S. Historical Climate Network, version 2, daily data (1901–2009). Both daytime and nighttime events are examined, defining a heat wave as three consecutive days above the 99th percentile for the maximum and minimum temperature anomalies separately. Although the synoptic characteristics of the daytime and nighttime heat events are similar, they do indicate some differences between the two types of events. Most notable is a stronger influence of downslope warming over the Cascade Mountains for the daytime events versus a more important role of precipitable water content for the nighttime events, presumably through its impact on downward longwave radiative fluxes. Current research suggests that the frequency and duration of heat waves are expected to increase in much of the United States, and analysis of the heat events reveals that a significant, increasing trend in the frequency of the nighttime events is already occurring in the Pacific Northwest. A heat wave occurred in 2009 that set all-time-record maximum temperatures in many locations and ranked as the second strongest daytime event and the longest nighttime event in the record.

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