Abstract

Time-dependent changes in extreme precipitation occurrence across the northeastern United States are evaluated in terms of areal extent. Using gridded precipitation data for the period from 1950 to 2018, polygons are defined that are based on isohyets corresponding to extreme daily precipitation accumulations. Across the region, areal precipitation is characterized on the basis of the annual and seasonal number of extreme precipitation polygons and the area of the polygons. Using the subset of grid points that correspond to station locations in the northeastern United States, gridded precipitation replicates the observed trends in extreme precipitation based on station observations. Although the number of extreme precipitation polygons does not change significantly through time, there is a marked increase in the area covered by the polygons. The median annual polygon area nearly doubles from 1950 to 2013. Consistent results occur for percentiles other than the median and a range of extreme precipitation amount thresholds, with the most pronounced changes observed in spring and summer. Like trends in station data, outside the northeastern United States trends in extreme precipitation polygon area are negative, particularly in the western United States, or they are not statistically significant. Collectively, the results suggest that the increases in heavy precipitation frequency and amount observed at stations in the northeastern United States are a manifestation of an expansion of the spatial area over which extreme precipitation occurs rather than a change in the number of unique extreme precipitation polygons.

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