Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Sharpening of cold-season storms over the western United States

Abstract

Winter storms are responsible for billion-dollar economic losses in the western United States. Because storm structures are not well resolved by global climate models, it is not well established how single events and their structures change with warming. Here we use regional storm-resolving simulations to investigate climate change impact on western US winter storms. Under a high-emissions scenario, precipitation volume from the top 20% of winter storms is projected to increase by up to 40% across the region by mid-century. The average increase in precipitation volume (31%) is contributed by 22% from increasing area coverage and 19% from increasing storm intensity, while a robust storm sharpening with larger increase in storm centre precipitation compared with increase in storm area reduces precipitation volume by 10%. Ignoring storm sharpening could result in overestimation of the changes in design storms currently used in infrastructure planning in the region.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Response of extreme precipitation events to future climate change over the western United States.
Fig. 2: Responses of composited storms to future climate change.
Fig. 3: Future changes for different storm metrics.
Fig. 4: Constructed future storms over the western United States.
Fig. 5: Changes in infrastructure design ARFSC.

Data availability

The precipitation object dataset is available and deposited at Zenodo (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6378027)47. The intermediate data necessary to reproduce the results are deposited at Zenodo (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7392256)48.

Code availability

The codes used to generate the figures in this study are available at Zenodo (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7392256)48.

References

  1. Smith, A. B. U.S. Billion-dollar Weather and Climate Disasters, 1980–present (NCEI, 2021); https://doi.org/10.25921/stkw-7w73

  2. Chen, X., Hossain, F. & Leung, L. R. Probable maximum precipitation in the U.S. Pacific Northwest in a Changing Climate. Water Resour. Res. 53, 9600–9622 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Manual on Estimation of Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP) (WMO, 2009); https://library.wmo.int/index.php?lvl=notice_display&id=1302#.Y57lHnbP3IU

  4. Pahl-Wostl, C. et al. Towards a sustainable water future: shaping the next decade of global water research. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 5, 708–714 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Westra, S. et al. Future changes to the intensity and frequency of short-duration extreme rainfall. Rev. Geophys. 52, 522–555 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Prein, A. F. et al. The future intensification of hourly precipitation extremes. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 48–52 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Trenberth, K. E., Dai, A., Rasmussen, R. M. & Parsons, D. B. The changing character of precipitation. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 84, 1205–1218 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Pendergrass, A. G. et al. Nonlinear response of extreme precipitation to warming in CESM1. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 10551–10560 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Berg, N. & Hall, A. Increased interannual precipitation extremes over california under climate change. J. Clim. 28, 6324–6334 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Swain, D. L., Langenbrunner, B., Neelin, J. D. & Hall, A. Increasing precipitation volatility in twenty-first-century California. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 427–433 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Lamjiri, M. A., Ralph, F. M. & Dettinger, M. D. Recent changes in United States extreme 3-day precipitation using the R-CAT Scale. J. Hydrometeorol. 21, 1207–1221 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Wrzesien, M. L. & Pavelsky, T. M. Projected changes to extreme runoff and precipitation events from a downscaled simulation over the Western United States. Front. Earth Sci. 7, 355 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Huang, X., Swain, D. L. & Hall, A. D. Future precipitation increase from very high resolution ensemble downscaling of extreme atmospheric river storms in California. Sci. Adv. 6, eaba1323 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Prein, A. F. et al. A review on regional convection-permitting climate modeling: demonstrations, prospects, and challenges. Rev. Geophys. 53, 323–361 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Pfahl, S., O’Gorman, P. A. & Fischer, E. M. Understanding the regional pattern of projected future changes in extreme precipitation. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 423–427 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Chen, X. et al. Predictability of extreme precipitation in Western U.S. watersheds based on atmospheric river occurrence, intensity, and duration. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 11693–11701 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Wright, D. B., Smith, J. A. & Baeck, M. L. Critical examination of area reduction factors. J. Hydrol. Eng. 19, 769–776 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Liu, C. et al. Continental-scale convection-permitting modeling of the current and future climate of North America. Clim. Dyn. 49, 71–95 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Musselman, K. N. et al. Projected increases and shifts in rain-on-snow flood risk over western North America. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 808–812 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Musselman, K. N., Clark, M. P., Liu, C., Ikeda, K. & Rasmussen, R. Slower snowmelt in a warmer world. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 214–219 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Scaff, L. et al. Simulating the convective precipitation diurnal cycle in North America’s current and future climate. Clim. Dyn. 55, 369–382 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Dettinger, M. D., Ralph, F. M., Das, T., Neiman, P. J. & Cayan, D. R. Atmospheric rivers, floods and the water resources of California. Water 3, 445–478 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hughes, M. et al. The landfall and inland penetration of a flood-producing atmospheric river in Arizona. Part II: sensitivity of modeled precipitation to terrain height and atmospheric river orientation. J. Hydrometeorol. 15, 1954–1974 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Ryoo, J.-M. et al. Terrain trapped airflows and precipitation variability during an atmospheric river event. J. Hydrometeorol. 21, 355–375 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Ralph, F. M., Neiman, P. J. & Rotunno, R. Dropsonde observations in low-level jets over the northeastern pacific ocean from CALJET-1998 and PACJET-2001: mean vertical-profile and atmospheric-river characteristics. Mon. Weather Rev. 133, 889–910 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Corringham, T. W., Ralph, F. M., Gershunov, A., Cayan, D. R. & Talbot, C. A. Atmospheric rivers drive flood damages in the western United States. Sci. Adv. 5, eaax4631 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Leung, L. R. & Qian, Y. Atmospheric rivers induced heavy precipitation and flooding in the western U.S. simulated by the WRF regional climate model. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L03820 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Loriaux, J. M., Lenderink, G. & Siebesma, A. P. Peak precipitation intensity in relation to atmospheric conditions and large-scale forcing at midlatitudes. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 121, 5471–5487 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Kunkel, K. E. et al. Probable maximum precipitation and climate change. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 1402–1408 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Davies, L., Jakob, C., May, P., Kumar, V. V. & Xie, S. Relationships between the large-scale atmosphere and the small-scale convective state for Darwin, Australia. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 11,534–11,545 (2013).

  31. Matte, D., Christensen, J. H. & Ozturk, T. Spatial extent of precipitation events: when big is getting bigger. Clim. Dyn. 58, 1861–1875 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Hansen, E. M., Fenn, D. D., Corrigan, P. & Vogel, J. L. Hydrometerological Report No. 57 (US Department of Army Corps of Engineers, 1994); https://www.weather.gov/media/owp/hdsc_documents/PMP/HMR57.pdf

  33. Corrigan, P., Fenn, D. D., Kluck, D. R. & Vogel, J. L. Hydrometerological Report No. 59 (US Department of Commerce, 1999); https://www.weather.gov/media/owp/hdsc_documents/PMP/HMR59.pdf

  34. Hansen, E. M., Schwarz, F. K. & Riedel, J. T. Hydrometerological Report No. 49 (US Depertment of Commerce, 1984); https://www.weather.gov/media/owp/hdsc_documents/PMP/HMR49.pdf

  35. Kotz, M., Levermann, A. & Wenz, L. The effect of rainfall changes on economic production. Nature 601, 223–227 (2022).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Gao, Y. et al. Dynamical and thermodynamical modulations on future changes of landfalling atmospheric rivers over western North America. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 7179–7186 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Prein, A. F. et al. Increased rainfall volume from future convective storms in the US. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 880–884 (2017).

  38. Wasko, C., Sharma, A. & Westra, S. Reduced spatial extent of extreme storms at higher temperatures. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 4026–4032 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Fletcher, S., Lickley, M. & Strzepek, K. Learning about climate change uncertainty enables flexible water infrastructure planning. Nat. Commun. 10, 1782 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Lopez-Cantu, T., Prein, A. F. & Samaras, C. Uncertainties in future U.S. extreme precipitation from downscaled climate projections. Geophys. Res. Lett. 47, e2019GL086797 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Skamarock, W. C. et al. A Description of the Advanced Research WRF Version 3 (NCAR, 2008); https://doi.org/10.5065/D68S4MVH

  42. Gao, Y., Leung, R. L., Zhao, C. & Hagos, S. Sensitivity of U.S. summer precipitation to model resolution and convective parameterizations across gray zone resolutions. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 122, 2714–2733 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Mesinger, F. et al. North American regional reanalysis. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 87, 343–360 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Daly, C. et al. Physiographically sensitive mapping of climatological temperature and precipitation across the conterminous United States. Int. J. Climatol. 28, 2031–2064 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Chen, X., Duan, Z., Leung, L. R. & Wigmosta, M. A framework to delineate precipitation-runoff regimes: precipitation versus snowpack in the Western United States. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 13044–13053 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Rupp, D. E., Abatzoglou, J. T., Hegewisch, K. C. & Mote, P. W. Evaluation of CMIP5 20th century climate simulations for the Pacific Northwest USA. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 10,884–10,906 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Chen, X. et al. Precipitation objects under the current and future climate: WRF 6-km hydroclimate simulation of the western US. Zenodo https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6378027 (2022).

  48. Chen, X., Leung, L. R., Gao, Y., Liu, Y. & Wigmosta, M. S. Sharpening of cold season storms over the western US: companion dataset. Zenodo https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7392256 (2022).

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research is supported by the US Department of Energy Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research as part of the Regional and Global Model Analysis and Multi-Sector Dynamics programme areas. The WRF simulations were supported by the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) under contract no. RC-2546 and performed using computing resources of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Research Computing and the National Energy Research Supercomputing Center (NERSC), which is supported by the DOE Office of Science under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is operated for the Department of Energy by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract no. DE-AC05-76RL01830.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

X.C. and L.R.L. designed the research. X.C. performed the analysis, drew all figures and wrote the first draft of the paper. L.R.L. provided comments on the analysis and contributed to the writing of the paper. All authors discussed and commented on the first draft of the paper. X.C. and L.R.L. revised the manuscript with inputs from other authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xiaodong Chen or L. Ruby Leung.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Climate Change thanks Dongyue Li, Deepti Singh and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–6 and Table 1.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chen, X., Leung, L.R., Gao, Y. et al. Sharpening of cold-season storms over the western United States. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01578-0

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01578-0

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing