This is the first part of a three-part paper on North American climate in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) that evaluates the historical simulations of continental and regional climatology with a focus on a core set of 17 models. The authors evaluate the models for a set of basic surface climate and hydrological variables and their extremes for the continent. This is supplemented by evaluations for selected regional climate processes relevant to North American climate, including cool season western Atlantic cyclones, the North American monsoon, the U.S. Great Plains low-level jet, and Arctic sea ice. In general, the multimodel ensemble mean represents the observed spatial patterns of basic climate and hydrological variables but with large variability across models and regions in the magnitude and sign of errors. No single model stands out as being particularly better or worse across all analyses, although some models consistently outperform the others for certain variables across most regions and seasons and higher-resolution models tend to perform better for regional processes. The CMIP5 multimodel ensemble shows a slight improvement relative to CMIP3 models in representing basic climate variables, in terms of the mean and spread, although performance has decreased for some models. Improvements in CMIP5 model performance are noticeable for some regional climate processes analyzed, such as the timing of the North American monsoon. The results of this paper have implications for the robustness of future projections of climate and its associated impacts, which are examined in the third part of the paper.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science