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Downturn in scaling of UK extreme rainfall with temperature for future hottest days


Extreme daily precipitation is thought to increase with temperature at a rate of 6.5% per K according to the Clausius–Clapeyron relationship between temperature and saturation vapour pressure1. A wide range of scaling relationships has been observed globally for extreme daily and hourly precipitation, with evidence of scaling above 6.5% per K for sub-daily extreme precipitation in some regions2,3,4. Only high-resolution climate models can simulate this scaling relationship5. Here we examine the scaling of hourly extreme precipitation intensities in a future climate using experiments with a model for the southern UK with kilometre-scale resolution6. Our model simulates the present-day scaling relationship at 6.5% per K, in agreement with observations. The simulated overall future increase in extreme precipitation follows the same relationship. However, UK extreme precipitation intensities decline at temperatures above about 22 °C—a temperature range that is not well sampled in the present-day integration—as a result of a more frequent occurrence of anticyclonic weather systems. Anticyclones produce more days with strong daytime heating, but are not favourable to the development of deep intense convective storms. We conclude that future extreme hourly precipitation intensities cannot simply be extrapolated from present-day temperature scaling, and demonstrate the pitfalls of using regional surface temperature as a scaling variable.

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Figure 1: The relationship between surface air temperature and extreme 1-h precipitation intensities over land.
Figure 2: The summer near-surface dew point/wet-bulb potential temperature relationships with extreme (P99) 1-h precipitation intensities.
Figure 3: The mean sea-level pressure differences between wet–hot days and wet–hot humid days with high 850-hPa θw over the southern UK.


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This research is part of the projects CONVEX and INTENSE, and UKMO Hadley Centre research programme, which are supported by the United Kingdom NERC Changing Water Cycle programme (Grant no. NE/I006680/1), European Research Council (Grant no. ERC-2013-CoG), and the Joint Department of Energy and Climate Change and Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Grant no. GA01101), respectively. S.C.C. is financially supported by Newcastle University, and is a visiting scientist at the UKMO Office Hadley Centre. H.J.F. is funded by the Wolfson Foundation and the Royal Society as a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (WM140025) holder. Significant portions of the analysis were carried out with the free and open-source statistical software R and its add-on library packages. We would also like to thank C. A. Ferro of the University of Exeter, M. J. Roberts and J. Wilkinson of the UKMO, and W. Moufouma-Okia of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (formerly Met Office) for their valuable inputs to this work.

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S.C.C. co-wrote the manuscript, conducted data analysis and data visualization. E.J.K. co-wrote the manuscript, supplied the data, performed the necessary model simulations, and advised on data analysis methodologies and result interpretation. N.M.R. co-wrote the manuscript, and advised on analysis methodologies and result interpretation. H.J.F. advised on the analysis methodologies, discussed the results, co-wrote the manuscript, and commented on the manuscript. S.B. advised on observational aspects of the present study, discussed the results, and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Steven C. Chan.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Chan, S., Kendon, E., Roberts, N. et al. Downturn in scaling of UK extreme rainfall with temperature for future hottest days. Nature Geosci 9, 24–28 (2016).

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