Anthropogenic intensification of short-duration rainfall extremes

Hayley J. Fowler, Geert Lenderink, Andreas F. Prein, Seth Westra, Richard P. Allan, Nikolina Ban, Renaud Barbero, Peter Berg, Stephen Blenkinsop, Hong X. Do, Selma Guerreiro, Jan O. Haerter, Elizabeth J. Kendon, Elizabeth Lewis, Christoph Schaer, Ashish Sharma, Gabriele Villarini, Conrad Wasko, Xuebin Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

290 Scopus citations


Short-duration (1–3 h) rainfall extremes can cause serious damage to societies through rapidly developing (flash) flooding and are determined by complex, multifaceted processes that are altering as Earth’s climate warms. In this Review, we examine evidence from observational, theoretical and modelling studies for the intensification of these rainfall extremes, the drivers and the impact on flash flooding. Both short-duration and long-duration (>1 day) rainfall extremes are intensifying with warming at a rate consistent with the increase in atmospheric moisture (~7% K−1), while in some regions, increases in short-duration extreme rainfall intensities are stronger than expected from moisture increases alone. These stronger local increases are related to feedbacks in convective clouds, but their exact role is uncertain because of the very small scales involved. Future extreme rainfall intensification is also modulated by changes to temperature stratification and large-scale atmospheric circulation. The latter remains a major source of uncertainty. Intensification of short-duration extremes has likely increased the incidence of flash flooding at local scales, and this can further compound with an increase in storm spatial footprint to considerably increase total event rainfall. These findings call for urgent climate change adaptation measures to manage increasing flood risks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-122
Number of pages16
JournalNature Reviews Earth and Environment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pollution
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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