Larger Spatial Footprint of Wintertime Total Precipitation Extremes in a Warmer Climate

Authors: Emanuele Bevacqua and Theodore G Shepherd and Peter A G Watson and Sarah Sparrow and David Wallom and Dann Mitchell
Journal: Geophysical Research Letters
Year: 2021

Abstract The simultaneous occurrence of extremely wet winters at multiple locations in the same region can contribute to widespread flooding and associated socio-economic losses. However, the spatial extent of precipitation extremes (i.e., the area in which nearby locations experience precipitation extremes simultaneously) and its future changes are largely overlooked in climate assessments. Employing new multi-thousand-year climate model simulations, we show that under both 2.0 °C and 1.5 °C warming scenarios, wintertime total precipitation extreme extents would increase over about 80%–90% of the Northern Hemisphere extratropics (i.e., of the latitude band 28°–78°N). Stabilizing at 1.5 °C rather than 2.0 °C would reduce the average magnitude of the increase by 1.7–2 times. According to the climate model, the increased extents are caused by increases in precipitation intensity rather than changes in the spatial organization of the events. Relatively small percentage increases in precipitation intensities (e.g., by 4%) can drive disproportionately larger, by 1–2 orders of magnitude, growth in the spatial extents (by 93%).