The resolution dependence of contiguous U.S. precipitation extremes in response to CO2 forcing

Karin van der Wiel, Sarah B. Kapnick, Gabriel A. Vecchi, William F. Cooke, Thomas L. Delworth, Liwei Jia, Hiroyuki Murakami, Seth Underwood, Fanrong Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Precipitation extremes have a widespread impact on societies and ecosystems; it is therefore important to understand current and future patterns of extreme precipitation. Here, a set of new global coupled climate models with varying atmospheric resolution has been used to investigate the ability of these models to reproduce observed patterns of precipitation extremes and to investigate changes in these extremes in response to increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The atmospheric resolution was increased from 2° × 2° grid cells (typical resolution in the CMIP5 archive) to 0.25° × 0.25° (tropical cyclone permitting). Analysis has been confined to the contiguous United States (CONUS). It is shown that, for these models, integrating at higher atmospheric resolution improves all aspects of simulated extreme precipitation: spatial patterns, intensities, and seasonal timing. In response to 2 × CO2 concentrations, all models show a mean intensification of precipitation rates during extreme events of approximately 3%-4% K-1. However, projected regional patterns of changes in extremes are dependent on model resolution. For example, the highest-resolution models show increased precipitation rates during extreme events in the hurricane season in the U.S. Southeast; this increase is not found in the low-resolution model. These results emphasize that, for the study of extreme precipitation there is a minimum model resolution that is needed to capture the weather phenomena generating the extremes. Finally, the observed record and historical model experiments were used to investigate changes in the recent past. In part because of large intrinsic variability, no evidence was found for changes in extreme precipitation attributable to climate change in the available observed record.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7991-8012
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number22
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Climate change
  • Climate models
  • Climate sensitivity
  • Extreme events
  • Model evaluation/performance
  • Precipitation


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