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Heavier summer downpours with climate change revealed by weather forecast resolution model


The intensification of precipitation extremes with climate change1 is of key importance to society as a result of the large impact through flooding. Observations show that heavy rainfall is increasing on daily timescales in many regions2, but how changes will manifest themselves on sub-daily timescales remains highly uncertain. Here we perform the first climate change experiments with a very high resolution (1.5 km grid spacing) model more typically used for weather forecasting, in this instance for a region of the UK. The model simulates realistic hourly rainfall characteristics, including extremes3,4, unlike coarser resolution climate models5,6, giving us confidence in its ability to project future changes at this timescale. We find the 1.5 km model shows increases in hourly rainfall intensities in winter, consistent with projections from a coarser 12 km resolution model and previous studies at the daily timescale7. However, the 1.5 km model also shows a future intensification of short-duration rain in summer, with significantly more events exceeding the high thresholds indicative of serious flash flooding. We conclude that accurate representation of the local storm dynamics is an essential requirement for predicting changes to convective extremes; when included we find for the model here that summer downpours intensify with warming.

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Figure 1: Heavy rainfall on hourly timescales (mm h−1) in winter (December–January–February; DJF).
Figure 2: Heavy rainfall on hourly timescales (mm h−1) in summer (June–July–August; JJA).
Figure 3: Frequency of episodes across the southern UK exceeding present-day percentiles of wet hourly precipitation.
Figure 4: Model biases and future changes in the joint probability distribution of wet spell duration versus peak intensity over the southern UK.


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Thanks to colleagues across the UK Met Office for their help in setting up the 1.5 km and 12 km model experiments, especially C. Wang, J. Bornemann and W. Moufouma-Okia. Also thanks to J. Wilkinson, P. Field, C. Pilling and H. Lean for useful discussions. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Joint Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). This work also forms part of a joint UK Met Office and Natural Environment Research Council (UKMO-NERC) funded project on Convective Extremes (CONVEX, NE/1006680/1).

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E.J.K. carried out the 1.5 km and 12 km model experiments and wrote the paper. N.M.R. analysed the performance of the 1.5 km model from weather forecasts, produced Supplementary Fig. 1, and along with H.J.F. extensively contributed to the manuscript. M.J.R. ran the 60 km global model experiments. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth J. Kendon.

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Kendon, E., Roberts, N., Fowler, H. et al. Heavier summer downpours with climate change revealed by weather forecast resolution model. Nature Clim Change 4, 570–576 (2014).

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