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Mid-Western US heavy summer-precipitation in regional and global climate models: the impact on model skill and consensus through an analogue lens

Gao, Xiang, Schlosser, C. Adam
Climate dynamics 2019 v.52 no.3-4 pp. 1569-1582
General Circulation Models, climate, summer, topography, Midwestern United States
Regional climate models (RCMs) can simulate heavy precipitation more accurately than general circulation models (GCMs) through more realistic representation of topography and mesoscale processes. Analogue methods of downscaling, which identify the large-scale atmospheric conditions associated with heavy precipitation, can also produce more accurate and precise heavy precipitation frequency in GCMs than the simulated precipitation. In this study, we examine the performances of the analogue method versus direct simulation, when applied to RCM and GCM simulations, in detecting present-day and future changes in summer (JJA) heavy precipitation over the Midwestern United States. We find analogue methods are comparable to MERRA-2 and its bias-corrected precipitation in characterizing the occurrence and interannual variations of observed heavy precipitation events, all significantly improving upon MERRA precipitation. For the late twentieth-century heavy precipitation frequency, RCM precipitation improves upon the corresponding driving GCM with greater accuracy yet comparable inter-model discrepancies, while both RCM- and GCM-based analogue results outperform their model-simulated precipitation counterparts in terms of accuracy and model consensus. For the projected trends in heavy precipitation frequency through the mid twenty-first century, analogue method also manifests its superiority to direct simulation with reduced intermodel disparities, while the RCM-based analogue and simulated precipitation do not demonstrate a salient improvement (in model consensus) over the GCM-based assessment. However, a number of caveats preclude any overall judgement, and further work—over any region of interest—should include a larger sample of GCMs and RCMs as well as ensemble simulations to comprehensively account for internal variability.