Strong increase in convective precipitation in response to higher temperatures

Abstract

Precipitation changes can affect society more directly than variations in most other meteorological observables1,2,3, but precipitation is difficult to characterize because of fluctuations on nearly all temporal and spatial scales. In addition, the intensity of extreme precipitation rises markedly at higher temperature4,5,6,7,8,9, faster than the rate of increase in the atmosphere’s water-holding capacity1,4, termed the Clausius–Clapeyron rate. Invigoration of convective precipitation (such as thunderstorms) has been favoured over a rise in stratiform precipitation (such as large-scale frontal precipitation) as a cause for this increase4,10, but the relative contributions of these two types of precipitation have been difficult to disentangle. Here we combine large data sets from radar measurements and rain gauges over Germany with corresponding synoptic observations and temperature records, and separate convective and stratiform precipitation events by cloud observations. We find that for stratiform precipitation, extremes increase with temperature at approximately the Clausius–Clapeyron rate, without characteristic scales. In contrast, convective precipitation exhibits characteristic spatial and temporal scales, and its intensity in response to warming exceeds the Clausius–Clapeyron rate. We conclude that convective precipitation responds much more sensitively to temperature increases than stratiform precipitation, and increasingly dominates events of extreme precipitation.

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Figure 1: Separation of precipitation types.
Figure 2: Probability distribution of precipitation intensity.
Figure 3: Event intensity profile and correlations.
Figure 4: Event scaling in time and space.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the radar and gauge data from the German Weather Service (DWD), synoptic codes from the Met Office Integrated Data Archive System, retrieved through the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC), and the E-OBS data set from the EU-FP6 project ENSEMBLES (http://ensembles-eu.metoffice.com) and the data providers in the ECA&D project (http://eca.knmi.nl), as well as the Cloudnet project (EU contract EVK2-2000-00611) for providing the Lindenberg Level 1 observational data. P.B. acknowledges support from the Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology (CEDIM) through IMK-TRO. J.O.H. acknowledges support by the Danish National Research Foundation through the Center for Models of Life.

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P.B. processed the synoptic and station data, performed data analysis and contributed to the manuscript. C.M. performed the preparation of the radar data and contributed to the manuscript. J.O.H. performed the radar data analysis and contributed to the manuscript. The initial idea was equally conceived by P.B. and J.O.H.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jan O. Haerter.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Berg, P., Moseley, C. & Haerter, J. Strong increase in convective precipitation in response to higher temperatures. Nature Geosci 6, 181–185 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1731

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