Letter | Published:

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

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 268274 (2017) | Download Citation


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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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.

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  1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering & Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269, USA

    • Guiling Wang
    • , Dagang Wang
    • , Amir Erfanian
    • , Miao Yu
    •  & Dana T. Parr
  2. School of Geography and Planning, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China

    • Dagang Wang
  3. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado 80307, USA

    • Kevin E. Trenberth
  4. Collaborative Innovation Center on Forecast and Evaluation of Meteorological Disasters, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, Nanjing 210044, China

    • Miao Yu
  5. Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, NASA GSFC, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

    • Michael G. Bosilovich


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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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Guiling Wang or Dagang Wang.

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