The United States Department of Agriculture classifies plant hardiness zones based on mean annual minimum temperatures over some past period (currently 1976–2005). Since temperatures are changing, these values may benefit from updating. I outline a multistep methodology involving imputation of missing station values, geostatistical interpolation, and time series smoothing to update a climate variable’s expected value compared to a climatology period and apply it to estimating annual minimum temperature change over the coterminous United States. I show using hindcast experiments that trend estimation gives more accurate predictions of minimum temperatures 1-2 years in advance compared to the previous 30 years’ mean alone. I find that annual minimum temperature increased roughly 2.5 times faster than mean temperature (~2.0 K versus ~0.8 K since 1970), and is already an average of 1.2 0.5 K (regionally up to ~2 K) above the 1976–2005 mean, so that much of the country belongs to warmer hardiness zones compared to the current map. The methods developed may also be applied to estimate changes in other climate variables and geographic regions.
Krakauer, Nir, "Estimating Climate Trends: Application to United States Plant Hardiness Zones" (2012). CUNY Academic Works.