A new mechanism for warm-season precipitation response to global warming based on convection-permitting simulations

Abstract

Climate models project increasing precipitation intensity but decreasing frequency as greenhouse gases increase. However, the exact mechanism for the frequency decrease remains unclear. Here we investigate this by analyzing hourly data from regional climate change simulations with 4 km grid spacing covering most of North America using the Weather Research and Forecasting model. The model was forced with present and future boundary conditions, with the latter being derived by adding the CMIP5 19-model ensemble mean changes to the ERA-interim reanalysis. The model reproduces well the observed seasonal and spatial variations in precipitation frequency and histograms, and the dry interval between rain events over the contiguous US. Results show that overall precipitation frequency indeed decreases during the warm season mainly due to fewer light-moderate precipitation (0.1 < P ≤ 2.0 mm/h) events, while heavy (2 < P ≤ 10 mm/h) to very heavy precipitation (P > 10 mm/h) events increase. Dry spells become longer and more frequent, together with a reduction in time-mean relative humidity (RH) in the lower troposphere during the warm season. The increased dry hours and decreased RH lead to a reduction in overall precipitation frequency and also for light-moderate precipitation events, while water vapor-induced increases in precipitation intensity and the positive latent heating feedback in intense storms may be responsible for the large increase in intense precipitation. The size of intense storms increases while their number decreases in the future climate, which helps explain the increase in local frequency of heavy precipitation. The results generally support a new hypothesis for future warm-season precipitation: each rainstorm removes ≥7% more moisture from the air per 1 K local warming, and surface evaporation and moisture advection take slightly longer than currently to replenish the depleted moisture before the next storm forms, leading to longer dry spells and a reduction in precipitation frequency, as well as decreases in time-mean RH and vertical motion.

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Acknowledgements

We thank two anonymous reviewers for many constructive comments. A. Dai acknowledges the supported by the US National Science Foundation (Grant #AGS–1353740), the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science (Award #DE–SC0012602), and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Award #NA15OAR4310086). NCAR is funded by the National Science Foundation. Computer resources were provided by the Computational and Information Systems Laboratory of NCAR.

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Correspondence to Aiguo Dai.

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This paper is a contribution to the special issue on Advances in Convection-Permitting Climate Modeling, consisting of papers that focus on the evaluation, climate change assessment, and feedback processes in kilometer-scale simulations and observations. The special issue is coordinated by Christopher L. Castro, Justin R. Minder, and Andreas F. Prein.

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Dai, A., Rasmussen, R.M., Liu, C. et al. A new mechanism for warm-season precipitation response to global warming based on convection-permitting simulations. Clim Dyn 55, 343–368 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-017-3787-6

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Precipitation
  • Climate downscaling
  • WRF
  • North America
  • Precipitation frequency
  • Convection-permitting