Projected changes to extreme freezing precipitation and design ice loads over North America based on a large ensemble of Canadian regional climate model simulations
Atmospheric ice accretion caused by freezing precipitation (FP) can lead to severe damage and the failure of buildings and infrastructure. This study investigates projected changes to extreme ice loads – those used to design infrastructure over North America (NA) – for future periods of specified global mean temperature change (GMTC), relative to the recent 1986–2016 period, using a large 50-member initial-condition ensemble of the CanRCM4 regional climate model, driven by CanESM2 under the RCP8.5 scenario. The analysis is based on 3-hourly ice accretions on horizontal, vertical and radial surfaces calculated based on FP diagnosed by the offline Bourgouin algorithm and wind speed during FP. The CanRCM4 ensemble projects an increase in future design ice loads for most of northern NA and decreases for most of southern NA and some northeastern coastal regions. These changes are mainly caused by regional increases in future upper-level and surface temperatures associated with global warming. Projected changes in design ice thickness are also affected by changes in future precipitation intensity and surface wind speed. Changes in upper-level and surface temperature conditions for FP occurrence in CanRCM4 are in broad agreement with those from nine global climate models but display regional differences under the same level of global warming, indicating that a larger multi-model, multi-scenario ensemble may be needed to better account for additional sources of structural and scenario uncertainty. Increases in ice accretion for latitudes higher than 40∘ N are substantial and would have clear implications for future building and infrastructure design.