Letter | Published:

Trends in hourly rainfall statistics in the United States under a warming climate

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 577580 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

It is now widely accepted1,2,3,4,5 that the mean world climate has warmed since the beginning of climatologically significant anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases. Warming may be accompanied6,7,8 by changes in the rate of extreme weather events such as severe storms and drought. Here we use hourly precipitation data from 13 stations in the 48 contiguous United States to determine trends in the frequency of such events, taking the normalized variance and a renormalized fourth moment of the precipitation measurements, averaged over decades, as objective measures of the frequency and severity of extreme weather. Using data mostly from the period 1940–1999 but also two longer data series, periods that include the rapid warming that seems to have begun at approximately 1970, we find a significant increase of 6.5±1.3%(1σ) per decade in the normalized variance at a site on the Olympic Peninsula at which it is low. We place statistical limits on any trend at the remaining 12 sites, where the normalized variance and its uncertainty are larger. At most sites these limits are consistent with the same rate of linear increase as at the Olympic Peninsula site, but exclude the same rate of percentage increase.

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Acknowledgements

We thank L. Canel-Katz, J. Hoffman and J. G. Miller for comments on the manuscript, P. Ya. Groisman for assistance with the NOAA precipitation databases and Novim for support.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics, Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri 63130, USA

    • T. Muschinski
    •  & J. I. Katz
  2. McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences, Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri 63130, USA

    • J. I. Katz

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Contributions

J.I.K. conceived and designed the study and wrote the paper. T.M. contributed to the study design and writing the paper, carried out the calculations, and analysed the results.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. I. Katz.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1828