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Elizabeth J. Kendon, Stephen Blenkinsop, and Hayley J. Fowler

Abstract

The question of when the influence of climate change on U.K. rainfall extremes may be detected is important from a planning perspective, providing a time scale for necessary climate change adaptation measures. Short-duration intense rainfall is responsible for flash flooding, and several studies have suggested an amplified response to warming for rainfall extremes on hourly and subhourly time scales. However, there are very few studies examining the detection of changes in subdaily rainfall. This is due to the high cost of very high-resolution (kilometer scale) climate models needed to capture hourly rainfall extremes and to a lack of sufficiently long, high-quality, subdaily observational records. Results using output from a 1.5-km climate model over the southern United Kingdom indicate that changes in 10-min and hourly precipitation emerge before changes in daily precipitation. In particular, model results suggest detection times for short-duration rainfall intensity in the 2040s in winter and the 2080s in summer, which are, respectively, 5–10 years and decades earlier than for daily extremes. Results from a new quality-controlled observational dataset of hourly rainfall over the United Kingdom do not show a similar difference between daily and hourly trends. Natural variability appears to dominate current observed trends (including an increase in the intensity of heavy summer rainfall over the last 30 years), with some suggestion of larger daily than hourly trends for recent decades. The expectation of the reverse, namely, larger trends for short-duration rainfall, as the signature of underlying climate change has potentially important implications for detection and attribution studies.

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Steven C. Chan, Elizabeth J. Kendon, Nigel Roberts, Stephen Blenkinsop, and Hayley J. Fowler

Abstract

Midlatitude extreme precipitation events are caused by well-understood meteorological drivers, such as vertical instability and low pressure systems. In principle, dynamical weather and climate models behave in the same way, although perhaps with the sensitivities to the drivers varying between models. Unlike parameterized convection models (PCMs), convection-permitting models (CPMs) are able to realistically capture subdaily extreme precipitation. CPMs are computationally expensive; being able to diagnose the occurrence of subdaily extreme precipitation from large-scale drivers, with sufficient skill, would allow effective targeting of CPM downscaling simulations. Here the regression relationships are quantified between the occurrence of extreme hourly precipitation events and vertical stability and circulation predictors in southern United Kingdom 1.5-km CPM and 12-km PCM present- and future-climate simulations. Overall, the large-scale predictors demonstrate skill in predicting the occurrence of extreme hourly events in both the 1.5- and 12-km simulations. For the present-climate simulations, extreme occurrences in the 12-km model are less sensitive to vertical stability than in the 1.5-km model, consistent with understanding the limitations of cumulus parameterization. In the future-climate simulations, the regression relationship is more similar between the two models, which may be understood from changes to the large-scale circulation patterns and land surface climate. Overall, regression analysis offers a promising avenue for targeting CPM simulations. The authors also outline which events would be missed by adopting such a targeted approach.

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Elizabeth J. Kendon, Nigel M. Roberts, Catherine A. Senior, and Malcolm J. Roberts

Abstract

The realistic representation of rainfall on the local scale in climate models remains a key challenge. Realism encompasses the full spatial and temporal structure of rainfall, and is a key indicator of model skill in representing the underlying processes. In particular, if rainfall is more realistic in a climate model, there is greater confidence in its projections of future change.

In this study, the realism of rainfall in a very high-resolution (1.5 km) regional climate model (RCM) is compared to a coarser-resolution 12-km RCM. This is the first time a convection-permitting model has been run for an extended period (1989–2008) over a region of the United Kingdom, allowing the characteristics of rainfall to be evaluated in a climatological sense. In particular, the duration and spatial extent of hourly rainfall across the southern United Kingdom is examined, with a key focus on heavy rainfall.

Rainfall in the 1.5-km RCM is found to be much more realistic than in the 12-km RCM. In the 12-km RCM, heavy rain events are not heavy enough, and tend to be too persistent and widespread. While the 1.5-km model does have a tendency for heavy rain to be too intense, it still gives a much better representation of its duration and spatial extent. Long-standing problems in climate models, such as the tendency for too much persistent light rain and errors in the diurnal cycle, are also considerably reduced in the 1.5-km RCM. Biases in the 12-km RCM appear to be linked to deficiencies in the representation of convection.

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Elizabeth J. Kendon, David P. Rowell, Richard G. Jones, and Erasmo Buonomo

Abstract

Reliable projections of future changes in local precipitation extremes are essential for informing policy decisions regarding mitigation and adaptation to climate change. In this paper, the extent to which the natural variability of the climate affects one’s ability to project the anthropogenically forced component of change in daily precipitation extremes across Europe is examined. A three-member ensemble of the Hadley Centre Regional Climate Model (HadRM3H) is used and a statistical framework is applied to estimate the uncertainty due to the full spectrum of climate variability. In particular, the results and understanding presented here suggest that annual to multidecadal natural variability may contribute significant uncertainty. For this ensemble projection, extreme precipitation changes at the grid-box level are found to be discernible above climate noise over much of northern and central Europe in winter, and parts of northern and southern Europe in summer. The ability to quantify the change to a reasonable level of accuracy is largely limited to regions in northern Europe. In general, where climate noise has a significant component varying on decadal time scales, single 30-yr climate change projections are insufficient to infer changes in the extreme tail of the underlying precipitation distribution. In this context, the need for ensembles of integrations is demonstrated and the relative effectiveness of spatial pooling and averaging for generating robust signals of extreme precipitation change is also explored. The key conclusions are expected to apply more generally to other models and forcing scenarios.

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Elizabeth J. Kendon, Richard G. Jones, Erik Kjellström, and James M. Murphy

Abstract

Multimodel ensembles, whereby different global climate models (GCMs) and regional climate models (RCMs) are combined, have been widely used to explore uncertainties in regional climate projections. In this study, the extent to which information can be enhanced from sparsely filled GCM–RCM ensemble matrices and the way in which simulations should be prioritized to sample uncertainties most effectively are examined.

A simple scaling technique, whereby the local climate response in an RCM is predicted from the large-scale change in the GCM, is found to often show skill in estimating local changes for missing GCM–RCM combinations. In particular, scaling shows skill for precipitation indices (including mean, variance, and extremes) across Europe in winter and mean and extreme temperature in summer and winter, except for hot extremes over central/northern Europe in summer. However, internal variability significantly impacts the ability to determine scaling skill for precipitation indices, with a three-member ensemble found to be insufficient for identifying robust local scaling relationships in many cases.

This study suggests that, given limited computer resources, ensembles should be designed to prioritize the sampling of GCM uncertainty, using a reduced set of RCMs. Exceptions are found over the Alps and northeastern Europe in winter and central Europe in summer, where sampling multiple RCMs may be equally or more important for capturing uncertainty in local temperature or precipitation change. This reflects the significant role of local processes in these regions. Also, to determine the ensemble strategy in some cases, notably precipitation extremes in summer, better sampling of internal variability is needed.

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Steven C. Chan, Elizabeth J. Kendon, Hayley J. Fowler, Stephen Blenkinsop, Nigel M. Roberts, and Christopher A. T. Ferro

Abstract

Extreme value theory is used as a diagnostic for two high-resolution (12-km parameterized convection and 1.5-km explicit convection) Met Office regional climate model (RCM) simulations. On subdaily time scales, the 12-km simulation has weaker June–August (JJA) short-return-period return levels than the 1.5-km RCM, yet the 12-km RCM has overly large high return levels. Comparisons with observations indicate that the 1.5-km RCM is more successful than the 12-km RCM in representing (multi)hourly JJA very extreme events. As accumulation periods increase toward daily time scales, the erroneous 12-km precipitation extremes become more comparable with the observations and the 1.5-km RCM. The 12-km RCM fails to capture the observed low sensitivity of the growth rate to accumulation period changes, which is successfully captured by the 1.5-km RCM. Both simulations have comparable December–February (DJF) extremes, but the DJF extremes are generally weaker than in JJA at daily or shorter time scales. Case studies indicate that “gridpoint storms” are one of the causes of unrealistic very extreme events in the 12-km RCM. Caution is needed in interpreting the realism of 12-km RCM JJA extremes, including short-return-period events, which have return values closer to observations. There is clear evidence that the 1.5-km RCM has a higher degree of realism than the 12-km RCM in the simulation of JJA extremes.

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Elizabeth J. Kendon, Nikolina Ban, Nigel M. Roberts, Hayley J. Fowler, Malcolm J. Roberts, Steven C. Chan, Jason P. Evans, Giorgia Fosser, and Jonathan M. Wilkinson

Abstract

Regional climate projections are used in a wide range of impact studies, from assessing future flood risk to climate change impacts on food and energy production. These model projections are typically at 12–50-km resolution, providing valuable regional detail but with inherent limitations, in part because of the need to parameterize convection. The first climate change experiments at convection-permitting resolution (kilometer-scale grid spacing) are now available for the United Kingdom; the Alps; Germany; Sydney, Australia; and the western United States. These models give a more realistic representation of convection and are better able to simulate hourly precipitation characteristics that are poorly represented in coarser-resolution climate models. Here we examine these new experiments to determine whether future midlatitude precipitation projections are robust from coarse to higher resolutions, with implications also for the tropics. We find that the explicit representation of the convective storms themselves, only possible in convection-permitting models, is necessary for capturing changes in the intensity and duration of summertime rain on daily and shorter time scales. Other aspects of rainfall change, including changes in seasonal mean precipitation and event occurrence, appear robust across resolutions, and therefore coarse-resolution regional climate models are likely to provide reliable future projections, provided that large-scale changes from the global climate model are reliable. The improved representation of convective storms also has implications for projections of wind, hail, fog, and lightning. We identify a number of impact areas, especially flooding, but also transport and wind energy, for which very high-resolution models may be needed for reliable future assessments.

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Lawrence S. Jackson, Declan L. Finney, Elizabeth J. Kendon, John H. Marsham, Douglas J. Parker, Rachel A. Stratton, Lorenzo Tomassini, and Simon Tucker

Abstract

The Hadley circulation and tropical rain belt are dominant features of African climate. Moist convection provides ascent within the rain belt, but must be parameterized in climate models, limiting predictions. Here, we use a pan-African convection-permitting model (CPM), alongside a parameterized convection model (PCM), to analyze how explicit convection affects the rain belt under climate change. Regarding changes in mean climate, both models project an increase in total column water (TCW), a widespread increase in rainfall, and slowdown of subtropical descent. Regional climate changes are similar for annual mean rainfall but regional changes of ascent typically strengthen less or weaken more in the CPM. Over a land-only meridional transect of the rain belt, the CPM mean rainfall increases less than in the PCM (5% vs 14%) but mean vertical velocity at 500 hPa weakens more (17% vs 10%). These changes mask more fundamental changes in underlying distributions. The decrease in 3-hourly rain frequency and shift from lighter to heavier rainfall are more pronounced in the CPM and accompanied by a shift from weak to strong updrafts with the enhancement of heavy rainfall largely due to these dynamic changes. The CPM has stronger coupling between intense rainfall and higher TCW. This yields a greater increase in rainfall contribution from events with greater TCW, with more rainfall for a given large-scale ascent, and so favors slowing of that ascent. These findings highlight connections between the convective-scale and larger-scale flows and emphasize that limitations of parameterized convection have major implications for planning adaptation to climate change.

Open access
Declan L. Finney, John H. Marsham, Lawrence S. Jackson, Elizabeth J. Kendon, David P. Rowell, Penelope M. Boorman, Richard J. Keane, Rachel A. Stratton, and Catherine A. Senior

Abstract

The precipitation and diabatic heating resulting from moist convection make it a key component of the atmospheric water budget in the tropics. With convective parameterization being a known source of uncertainty in global models, convection-permitting (CP) models are increasingly being used to improve understanding of regional climate. Here, a new 10-yr CP simulation is used to study the characteristics of rainfall and atmospheric water budget for East Africa and the Lake Victoria basin. The explicit representation of convection leads to a widespread improvement in the intensities and diurnal cycle of rainfall when compared with a parameterized simulation. Differences in large-scale moisture fluxes lead to a shift in the mean rainfall pattern from the Congo to Lake Victoria basin in the CP simulation—highlighting the important connection between local changes in the representation of convection and larger-scale dynamics and rainfall. Stronger lake–land contrasts in buoyancy in the CP model lead to a stronger nocturnal land breeze over Lake Victoria, increasing evaporation and moisture flux convergence (MFC), and likely unrealistically high rainfall. However, for the mountains east of the lake, the CP model produces a diurnal rainfall cycle much more similar to satellite estimates, which is related to differences in the timing of MFC. Results here demonstrate that, while care is needed regarding lake forcings, a CP approach offers a more realistic representation of several rainfall characteristics through a more physically based realization of the atmospheric dynamics around the complex topography of East Africa.

Open access
Elizabeth J. Kendon, Nigel M. Roberts, Giorgia Fosser, Gill M. Martin, Adrian P. Lock, James M. Murphy, Catherine A. Senior, and Simon O. Tucker

Abstract

For the first time, a model at a resolution on par with operational weather forecast models has been used for national climate scenarios. An ensemble of 12 climate change projections at convection-permitting (2.2 km) scale has been run for the United Kingdom, as part of the UK Climate Projections (UKCP) project. Contrary to previous studies, these show greater future increases in winter mean precipitation in the convection-permitting model compared with the coarser (12 km) driving model. A large part (60%) of the future increase in winter precipitation occurrence over land comes from an increase in convective showers in the 2.2 km model, which are most likely triggered over the sea and advected inland with potentially further development. In the 12 km model, increases in precipitation occurrence over the sea, largely due to an increase in convective showers, do not extend over the land. This is partly due to known limitations of the convection parameterization scheme, used in conventional coarse-resolution climate models, which acts locally without direct memory and so has no ability to advect diagnosed convection over the land or trigger new showers along convective outflow boundaries. This study shows that the importance of accurately representing convection extends beyond short-duration precipitation extremes and the summer season to projecting future changes in mean precipitation in winter.

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