Abstract

While CMIP5 models robustly project drying of the subtropics and more precipitation in the tropics and subpolar latitudes by the end of the century, the magnitude of these changes in precipitation varies widely across models: for example, some models simulate no drying in the eastern Mediterranean while others simulate more than a 50% reduction in precipitation relative to the model-simulated present-day value. Furthermore, the factors leading to changes in local subtropical precipitation remain unclear. The importance of zonal-mean changes in atmospheric structure for local precipitation changes is explored in 42 CMIP5 models. It is found that up to half of the local intermodel spread over the Mediterranean, northern Mexico, East Asia, southern Africa, southern Australia, and southern South America is related to the intermodel spread in large-scale processes such as the magnitude of globally averaged surface temperature increases, Hadley cell widening, polar amplification, stabilization of the tropical upper troposphere, or changes in the polar stratosphere. Globally averaged surface temperature increases account for intermodel spread in land subtropical drying in the Southern Hemisphere but are not important for land drying adjacent to the Mediterranean. The factors associated with drying over the eastern Mediterranean and western Mediterranean differ, with stabilization of the tropical upper troposphere being a crucial factor for the former only. Differences in precipitation between the western and eastern Mediterranean are also evident on interannual time scales. In contrast, the global factors examined here are unimportant over most of the United States, and more generally over the interior of continents. Much of the rest of the spread can be explained by variations in local relative humidity, a proxy also for zonally asymmetric circulation and thermodynamic changes.

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