Do convection-permitting regional climate models improve projections of future precipitation change?

Kendon, E.J., N.Ban, N. Roberts, H. Fowler, M. Roberts, S. Chan, J. Evans, G. Fosser, and J. Wilkinson
Bulletin of American Meteorological Society, 98(1), 79-93, doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-15-0004.1, 2016.


Regional climate projections are used in a wide range of impact studies, from assessing future flood risk to climate change impacts on food and energy production. These model projections are typically at 12–50-km resolution, providing valuable regional detail but with inherent limitations, in part because of the need to parameterize convection. The first climate change experiments at convection-permitting resolution (kilometer-scale grid spacing) are now available for the United Kingdom; the Alps; Germany; Sydney, Australia; and the western United States. These models give a more realistic representation of convection and are better able to simulate hourly precipitation characteristics that are poorly represented in coarser-resolution climate models. Here we examine these new experiments to determine whether future midlatitude precipitation projections are robust from coarse to higher resolutions, with implications also for the tropics. We find that the explicit representation of the convective storms themselves, only possible in convection-permitting models, is necessary for capturing changes in the intensity and duration of summertime rain on daily and shorter time scales. Other aspects of rainfall change, including changes in seasonal mean precipitation and event occurrence, appear robust across resolutions, and therefore coarse-resolution regional climate models are likely to provide reliable future projections, provided that large-scale changes from the global climate model are reliable. The improved representation of convective storms also has implications for projections of wind, hail, fog, and lightning. We identify a number of impact areas, especially flooding, but also transport and wind energy, for which very high-resolution models may be needed for reliable future assessments.

Key Figure

Fig. 7. Schematic summarizing where we have confidence in coarse-resolution RCM projections and where very high-resolution (kilometer scale) models are needed for accurate projections.

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