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Precipitation regime change in Western North America: The role of Atmospheric Rivers.

  • Author(s): Gershunov, Alexander
  • Shulgina, Tamara
  • Clemesha, Rachel ES
  • Guirguis, Kristen
  • Pierce, David W
  • Dettinger, Michael D
  • Lavers, David A
  • Cayan, Daniel R
  • Polade, Suraj D
  • Kalansky, Julie
  • Ralph, F Martin
  • et al.
Abstract

Daily precipitation in California has been projected to become less frequent even as precipitation extremes intensify, leading to uncertainty in the overall response to climate warming. Precipitation extremes are historically associated with Atmospheric Rivers (ARs). Sixteen global climate models are evaluated for realism in modeled historical AR behavior and contribution of the resulting daily precipitation to annual total precipitation over Western North America. The five most realistic models display consistent changes in future AR behavior, constraining the spread of the full ensemble. They, moreover, project increasing year-to-year variability of total annual precipitation, particularly over California, where change in total annual precipitation is not projected with confidence. Focusing on three representative river basins along the West Coast, we show that, while the decrease in precipitation frequency is mostly due to non-AR events, the increase in heavy and extreme precipitation is almost entirely due to ARs. This research demonstrates that examining meteorological causes of precipitation regime change can lead to better and more nuanced understanding of climate projections. It highlights the critical role of future changes in ARs to Western water resources, especially over California.

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