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Robert H. Nazarian
,
James V. Vizzard
,
Carissa P. Agostino
, and
Nicholas J. Lutsko

Abstract

The northeastern United States (NEUS) is a densely populated region with a number of major cities along the climatological storm track. Despite its economic and social importance, as well as the area’s vulnerability to flooding, there is significant uncertainty around future trends in extreme precipitation over the region. Here, we undertake a regional study of the projected changes in extreme precipitation over the NEUS through the end of the twenty-first century using an ensemble of high-resolution, dynamically downscaled simulations from the North American Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (NA-CORDEX) project. We find that extreme precipitation increases throughout the region, with the largest changes in coastal regions and smaller changes inland. These increases are seen throughout the year, although the smallest changes in extreme precipitation are seen in the summer, in contrast to earlier studies. The frequency of heavy precipitation also increases such that there are relatively fewer days with moderate precipitation and relatively more days with either no or strong precipitation. Averaged over the region, extreme precipitation increases by +3%–5% °C−1 of local warming, with the largest fractional increases in southern and inland regions and occurring during the winter and spring seasons. This is lower than the +7% °C−1 rate expected from thermodynamic considerations alone and suggests that dynamical changes damp the increases in extreme precipitation. These changes are qualitatively robust across ensemble members, although there is notable intermodel spread associated with models’ climate sensitivity and with changes in mean precipitation. Together, the NA-CORDEX simulations suggest that this densely populated region may require significant adaptation strategies to cope with the increase in extreme precipitation expected at the end of the next century.

Significance Statement

Observations show that the northeastern United States has already experienced increases in extreme precipitation, and prior modeling studies suggest that this trend is expected to continue through the end of the century. Using high-resolution climate model simulations, we find that coastal regions will experience large increases in extreme precipitation (+6.0–7.5 mm day−1), although there is significant intermodel spread in the trends’ spatial distribution and in their seasonality. Regionally averaged, extreme precipitation will increase at a rate of ∼2% decade−1. Our results also suggest that the frequency of extreme precipitation will increase, with the strongest storms doubling in frequency per degree of warming. These results, taken with earlier studies, provide guidance to aid in resiliency preparation and planning by regional stakeholders.

Open access