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Kevin Schwarzwald
,
Andrew Poppick
,
Maria Rugenstein
,
Jonah Bloch-Johnson
,
Jiali Wang
,
David McInerney
, and
Elisabeth J. Moyer

Abstract

Changes in precipitation variability can have large societal consequences, whether at the short time scales of flash floods or the longer time scales of multiyear droughts. Recent studies have suggested that in future climate projections, precipitation variability rises more steeply than does its mean, leading to concerns about societal impacts. This work evaluates changes in mean precipitation over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales using a range of models from high-resolution regional simulations to millennial-scale global simulations. Results show that changes depend on the scale of aggregation and involve strong regional differences. On local scales that resolve individual rainfall events (hours and tens of kilometers), changes in precipitation distributions are complex and variances rise substantially more than means, as is required given the well-known disproportionate rise in precipitation intensity. On scales that aggregate across many events, distributional changes become simpler and variability changes smaller. At regional scale, future precipitation distributions can be largely reproduced by a simple transformation of present-day precipitation involving a multiplicative shift and a small additive term. The “extra” broadening is negatively correlated with changes in mean precipitation: in strongly “wetting” areas, distributions broaden less than expected from a simple multiplicative mean change; in “drying” areas, distributions narrow less. Precipitation variability changes are therefore of especial concern in the subtropics, which tend to dry under climate change. Outside the tropics, variability changes are similar on time scales from days to decades (i.e., show little frequency dependence). This behavior is highly robust across models, suggesting it may stem from some fundamental constraint.

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Weston Anderson
,
Benjamin I. Cook
,
Kim Slinski
,
Kevin Schwarzwald
,
Amy McNally
, and
Chris Funk

Abstract

One of the primary sources of predictability for seasonal hydroclimate forecasts are sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the tropical Pacific, including El Niño–Southern Oscillation. Multiyear La Niña events in particular may be both predictable at long lead times and favor drought in the bimodal rainfall regions of East Africa. However, SST patterns in the tropical Pacific and adjacent ocean basins often differ substantially between first- and second-year La Niñas, which can change how these events affect regional climate. Here, we demonstrate that multiyear La Niña events favor drought in the Horn of Africa in three consecutive seasons [October–December (OND), March–May (MAM), OND]. But they do not tend to increase the probability of a fourth season of drought owing to the sea surface temperatures and associated atmospheric teleconnections in the MAM long rains season following second-year La Niña events. First-year La Niñas tend to have both greater subsidence over the Horn of Africa, associated with warmer waters in the west Pacific that enhance the Walker circulation, and greater cross-continental moisture transport, associated with a warm tropical Atlantic, as compared to second-year La Niñas. Both the increased subsidence and enhanced cross-continental moisture transport favors drought in the Horn of Africa. Our results provide a physical understanding of the sources and limitations of predictability for using multiyear La Niña forecasts to predict drought in the Horn of Africa.

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