Warm-season precipitation in the Central U.S. is highly variable, as severe droughts and flooding often occur in consecutive years or simultaneously. Some of the most highly productive agricultural lands are present within the region despite susceptibility to warm-season rainfall extremes. Climate change is expected to increase precipitation extremes globally, but how warm-season Central U.S. precipitation will be affected is unclear. In this study, I examine the drivers of current and future warm-season precipitation in the region as well as how the basic characteristics of summer rainfall may be affected by climate change through the use of gridded observations, reanalysis datasets, and dynamical downscaling of global climate models (GCMs). It is demonstrated that the negative phase of the Pacific-North American (PNA) teleconnection pattern enhances heavy precipitation events over the Upper Midwest by modulating the strength of the Great Plains Low Level Jet (GPLLJ), possibly enabling greater medium range prediction of Midwest heavy rain events. Similarly, I aim to reduce uncertainty in long-term projections of how precipitation may be affected by climate change by examining shortfalls in GCM-simulated warm-season precipitation and demonstrating improvement with dynamical downscaling. Using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, two GCMs are dynamically downscaled in one historical and three future timeslices with varying anthropogenic forcing. Future warm-season precipitation in these simulations is more intense, less frequent, and occurs with more days between rain events, similar to trends in observations that show large increases in extreme rainfall events and rainfall intensity. The intensification of extreme rainfall events in future simulations is the strongest during the April-July, associated with a strengthening of the GPLLJ during those months. Heavier rainfall rates during extreme precipitation events are related to a stronger cold pool and mesohigh, which force stronger moisture convergence above the cold pool in the presence of additional low-level moisture and a drier mid-troposphere. Overall, the identification of plausible physical mechanisms that might contribute to the enhancement of heavy rainfall events in the region enables greater confidence in future projections of extreme rainfall events.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2014. Major: Land and Atmospheric Science. Advisor: Peter K. Snyder. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 200 pages.
Harding, Keith John Iliff.
Examining the drivers of current and future changes in Central U.S. warm-season rainfall.
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