It is well known that urban areas are typically hotter than the surrounding (vegetated) rural areas. However, the contribution of urbanization to the trends of extreme temperature events such as heat waves (HWs) is less understood. Using a homogenized meteorological dataset drawn from nearly 2,000 stations in China, we find that urban and rural areas have different HW trends and the urban-rural contrast of HW trends varies across climate regimes. In wet climates, the increasing trends of HWs in urban areas are greater than those in rural areas, suggesting a positive contribution of urbanization to HW trends. In arid regions, the urbanization contribution to HW trends is smaller and even negative. The stronger urbanization contribution to HW trends in wet climates is linked to the smaller variability of urban heat island intensity. This study highlights the important role of local hydroclimate in modulating the urbanization contribution to extreme temperatures.
Plain Language Summary Extreme temperature events commonly known as heat waves (HWs) have profound impacts on human health. While it is well known that urban temperatures are usually higher than their rural counterparts (i.e., the urban heat island effect), whether and how the urbanization contribution to HW trends varies across different climate regimes over a large domain remains unclear. In this study, we explore the urban-rural contrast of HW characteristics over mainland China. Our analysis shows that while both urban and rural HWs are becoming more frequent, longer-lasting, and stronger in most parts of China, their trends are different. Interestingly, we find that the local hydroclimate modulates the variability of daily UHI intensity, thus affecting the contribution of urbanization to the frequency and magnitude of HWs. The stronger contrasts between urban and rural HW trends in wet climates are related to the larger increases in UHI intensity, but more importantly, the smaller variability of UHI intensity. As a result, the eastern, wet climate part of China, with the densest population and highest urbanization, will face severe heat risks in the future due to the combined effects of urbanization and global climate change.