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Observations and Regional Climate Model Simulations of Heavy Precipitation Events and Seasonal Anomalies: A Comparison

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  • 1 Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign, Illinois
  • | 2 Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
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Abstract

A regional climate model simulation of the period of 1979–88 over the contiguous United States, driven by lateral boundary conditions from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction–National Center for Atmospheric Research reanalysis, was analyzed to assess the ability of the model to simulate heavy precipitation events and seasonal precipitation anomalies. Heavy events were defined by precipitation totals that exceed the threshold value for a specified return period and duration. The model magnitudes of the thresholds for 1-day heavy precipitation events were in good agreement with observed thresholds for much of the central United States. Model thresholds were greater than observed for the eastern and intermountain western portions of the region and were smaller than observed for the lower Mississippi River basin. For 7-day events, model thresholds were in good agreement with observed thresholds for the eastern United States and Great Plains, were less than observed for the most of the Mississippi River valley, and were greater than observed for the intermountain western region. The interannual variability in frequency of heavy events in the model simulation exhibited similar behavior to that of the observed variability in the South, Southwest, West, and North-Central study regions. The agreement was poorer for the Midwest and Northeast, although the magnitude of variability was similar for both model and observations. There was good agreement between the model and observational data in the seasonal distribution of extreme events for the West and North-Central study regions; in the Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast, there were general similarities but some differences in the details of the distributions. The most notable differences occurred for the southern Gulf Coast region, for which the model produced a summer peak that is not present in the observational data. There was not a very high correlation in the timing of individual heavy events between the model and observations, reflecting differences between model and observations in the speed and path of many of the synoptic-scale events triggering the precipitation.

Corresponding author address: Kenneth E. Kunkel, Illinois State Water Survey, 2204 Griffith Dr., Champaign, IL 61820-7495. Email: k-kunkel@uiuc.edu

Abstract

A regional climate model simulation of the period of 1979–88 over the contiguous United States, driven by lateral boundary conditions from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction–National Center for Atmospheric Research reanalysis, was analyzed to assess the ability of the model to simulate heavy precipitation events and seasonal precipitation anomalies. Heavy events were defined by precipitation totals that exceed the threshold value for a specified return period and duration. The model magnitudes of the thresholds for 1-day heavy precipitation events were in good agreement with observed thresholds for much of the central United States. Model thresholds were greater than observed for the eastern and intermountain western portions of the region and were smaller than observed for the lower Mississippi River basin. For 7-day events, model thresholds were in good agreement with observed thresholds for the eastern United States and Great Plains, were less than observed for the most of the Mississippi River valley, and were greater than observed for the intermountain western region. The interannual variability in frequency of heavy events in the model simulation exhibited similar behavior to that of the observed variability in the South, Southwest, West, and North-Central study regions. The agreement was poorer for the Midwest and Northeast, although the magnitude of variability was similar for both model and observations. There was good agreement between the model and observational data in the seasonal distribution of extreme events for the West and North-Central study regions; in the Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast, there were general similarities but some differences in the details of the distributions. The most notable differences occurred for the southern Gulf Coast region, for which the model produced a summer peak that is not present in the observational data. There was not a very high correlation in the timing of individual heavy events between the model and observations, reflecting differences between model and observations in the speed and path of many of the synoptic-scale events triggering the precipitation.

Corresponding author address: Kenneth E. Kunkel, Illinois State Water Survey, 2204 Griffith Dr., Champaign, IL 61820-7495. Email: k-kunkel@uiuc.edu

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