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Guirguis, K, Gershunov A, Tardy A, Basu R.  2014.  The impact of recent heat waves on human health in California. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. 53:3-19.   10.1175/jamc-d-13-0130.1   AbstractWebsite

This study examines the health impacts of recent heat waves statewide and for six subregions of California: the north and south coasts, the Central Valley, the Mojave Desert, southern deserts, and northern forests. By using canonical correlation analysis applied to daily maximum temperatures and morbidity data in the form of unscheduled hospitalizations from 1999 to 2009, 19 heat waves spanning 3-15 days in duration that had a significant impact on health were identified. On average, hospital admissions were found to increase by 7% on the peak heat-wave day, with a significant impact seen for several disease categories, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, dehydration, acute renal failure, heat illness, and mental health. Statewide, there were 11 000 excess hospitalizations that were due to extreme heat over the period, yet the majority of impactful events were not accompanied by a heat advisory or warning from the National Weather Service. On a regional basis, the strongest health impacts are seen in the Central Valley and the north and south coasts. The north coast contributes disproportionately to the statewide health impact during heat waves, with a 10.5% increase in daily morbidity at heat-wave peak as compared with 8.1% for the Central Valley and 5.6% for the south coast. The temperature threshold at which an impact is seen varies by subregion and timing within the season. These results suggest that heat-warning criteria should consider local percentile thresholds to account for acclimation to local climatological conditions as well as the seasonal timing of a forecast heat wave.

Guirguis, K, Gershunov A, Cayan DR.  2015.  Interannual variability in associations between seasonal climate, weather, and extremes: wintertime temperature over the Southwestern United States. Environmental Research Letters. 10   10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/124023   AbstractWebsite

Temperature variability in the Southwest US is investigated using skew-normal probability distribution functions (SN PDFs) fitted to observed wintertime daily maximum temperature records. These PDFs vary significantly between years, with important geographical differences in the relationship between the central tendency and tails, revealing differing linkages between weather and climate. The warmest and coldest extremes do not necessarily follow the distribution center. In some regions one tail of the distribution shows more variability than does the other. For example, in California the cold tail is more variable while the warm tail remains relatively stable, so warm years are associated with fewer cold extremes but not necessarily more warm extremes. The opposite relationship is seen in the Great Plains. Changes in temperature PDFs are conditioned by different phases of El Nino-La Nina (ENSO) and the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO). In the Southern Great Plains, La Nina and/or negative PDO are associated with generally warmer conditions. However, in terms of extremes, while the warm tails become thicker and longer, the cool tails are not impacted-extremely warm days become more frequent but extremely cool days are not less frequent. In contrast, in coastal California, La Nina or negative PDO bring generally cooler conditions with more/stronger cold extremes but the warm extreme probability is not significantly affected. These results could have implications for global warming. If a rigid shift of the whole range occurs, then warm years are not necessarily a good analogue for a warmer climate. If global warming instead brings regional changes more aligned with a preferred state of dominant climate variability modes, then we may see asymmetric changes in the tails of local temperature PDFs.

Ari, TB, Gershunov A, Tristan R, Cazelles B, Gage K, Stenseth NC.  2010.  Interannual variability of human plague occurrence in the western United States explained by tropical and North Pacific Ocean climate variability. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 83:624-632.   10.4269/ajtmh.2010.09-0775   AbstractWebsite

Plague is a vector-borne, highly virulent zoonotic disease caused by the bacterium Yersima pesos It persists in nature through transmission between its hosts (wild rodents) and vectors (fleas). During epizootics, the disease expands and spills over to other host species such as humans living in or close to affected areas Here, we investigate the effect of large-scale climate variability on the dynamics of human plague in the western United States using a 56-year time series of plague reports (1950-2005). We found that El Nino Southern Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation in combination affect the dynamics of human plague over the western United States. The underlying mechanism could involve changes in precipitation and temperatures that impact both hosts and vectors It is suggested that snow also may play a key role, possibly through its effects on summer soil moisture, which is known to be instrumental for flea survival and development and sustained growth of vegetation for rodents

Gershunov, A, Barnett TP.  1998.  Interdecadal modulation of ENSO teleconnections. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. 79:2715-2725.   10.1175/1520-0477(1998)079<2715:imoet>2.0.co;2   AbstractWebsite

Seasonal climate anomalies over North America exhibit rather large variability between years characterized by the same ENSO phase. This lack of consistency reduces potential statistically based ENSO-related climate predictability. The authors show that the North Pacific oscillation (NPO) exerts a modulating effect on ENSO teleconnections. Sea lever pressure (SLP) data over the North Pacific, North America, and the North Atlantic and daily rainfall records in the contiguous United States are used to demonstrate that typical ENSO signals tend to be stronger and more stable during preferred phases of the NPO. Typical El Nino patterns (e.g., low pressure over the northeastern Pacific, dry northwest, and wet southwest, etc.) are strong and consistent only during the high phase of the NPO, which is associated with an anomalously cold northwestern Pacific. The generally reversed SLP and precipitation patterns during La Nina winters are consistent only during the low NPO phase. Climatic anomalies tend to be weak and spatially incoherent during low NPO-El Nino and high NPO-La Nina winters. These results suggest that confidence in ENSO-based long-range climate forecasts for North America should reflect interdecadal climatic anomalies in the North Pacific.