The peak structure and future changes of the relationships between extreme precipitation and temperature

Abstract

Theoretical models predict that, in the absence of moisture limitation, extreme precipitation intensity could exponentially increase with temperatures at a rate determined by the Clausius–Clapeyron (C–C) relationship1,2. Climate models project a continuous increase of precipitation extremes for the twenty-first century over most of the globe3,4,5. However, some station observations suggest a negative scaling of extreme precipitation with very high temperatures6,7,8,9, raising doubts about future increase of precipitation extremes. Here we show for the present-day climate over most of the globe, the curve relating daily precipitation extremes with local temperatures has a peak structure, increasing as expected at the low–medium range of temperature variations but decreasing at high temperatures. However, this peak-shaped relationship does not imply a potential upper limit for future precipitation extremes. Climate models project both the peak of extreme precipitation and the temperature at which it peaks (Tpeak) will increase with warming; the two increases generally conform to the C–C scaling rate in mid- and high-latitudes, and to a super C–C scaling in most of the tropics. Because projected increases of local mean temperature (Tmean) far exceed projected increases of Tpeak over land, the conventional approach of relating extreme precipitation to Tmean produces a misleading sub-C–C scaling rate.

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Figure 1: Daily precipitation extremes varying with local temperature, estimated based on different sources of data, including observation-based and reanalysis data (black with symbols) as well as six global models (thick coloured lines) for eight sample areas.
Figure 2: Rate of decrease of extreme daily precipitation with local temperature at the high temperature range.
Figure 3: Similar to Fig. 1, but based on output from six global models’ RCP8.5 future run for the period 2276–2300 (thin coloured lines with plus symbols), in comparison with the period 2006–2030 (thick coloured lines).
Figure 4: The scaling rate of the peak of daily precipitation extreme (Ppeak) with temperature at which it peaks (Tpeak).
Figure 5: Zonal averages of the ratio between Tpeak changes and Tmean changes, based on differences between 2006–2030 and 2276–2300.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by funding from the US National Science Foundation to G.W. (AGS-1063986, AGS-1659953). D.W. was supported by funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 51379224). K.E.T. is partially sponsored by DOE grant DE-SC0012711 and NCAR is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP. We also thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making their model output available. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

Author information

G.W. and D.W. motivated the study; G.W. designed the study and conducted data analysis with input from K.E.T., M.G.B. and D.W.; G.W. and K.E.T. wrote the paper; A.E., D.T.P., D.W. and M.Y. all contributed to data processing.

Correspondence to Guiling Wang or Dagang Wang.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Wang, G., Wang, D., Trenberth, K. et al. The peak structure and future changes of the relationships between extreme precipitation and temperature. Nature Clim Change 7, 268–274 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3239

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