Climate Dynamics

, Volume 49, Issue 5–6, pp 1765–1781 | Cite as

How will precipitation change in extratropical cyclones as the planet warms? Insights from a large initial condition climate model ensemble



The extratropical precipitation response to global warming is investigated within a 30-member initial condition climate model ensemble. As in observations, modeled cyclonic precipitation contributes a large fraction of extratropical precipitation, especially over the ocean and in the winter hemisphere. When compared to present day, the ensemble projects increased cyclone-associated precipitation under twenty-first century business-as-usual greenhouse gas forcing. While the cyclone-associated precipitation response is weaker in the near-future (2016–2035) than in the far-future (2081–2100), both future periods have similar patterns of response. Though cyclone frequency changes are important regionally, most of the increased cyclone-associated precipitation results from increased within-cyclone precipitation. Consistent with this result, cyclone-centric composites show statistically significant precipitation increases in all cyclone sectors. Decomposition into thermodynamic (mean cyclone water vapor path) and dynamic (mean cyclone wind speed) contributions shows that thermodynamics explains 92 and 95% of the near-future and far-future within-cyclone precipitation increases respectively. Surprisingly, the influence of dynamics on future cyclonic precipitation changes is negligible. In addition, the forced response exceeds internal variability in both future time periods. Overall, this work suggests that future cyclonic precipitation changes will result primarily from increased moisture availability in a warmer world, with secondary contributions from changes in cyclone frequency and cyclone dynamics.


Extratropical cyclones Precipitation Storm tracks Climate variability Initial condition ensembles 



The authors wish to thank Isla Simpson for fruitful conversations related to this work, the Yellowstone CESM CSL for computing resources, and the scientists and software engineers that build CESM. This work was funded by start-up funds awarded to J. E. Kay by the University of Colorado Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC)University of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA

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