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The Impact of Climate Change and Variability on Heavy Precipitation, Floods, and Droughts

Part 17. Climate Change

  1. Kevin E Trenberth

Published Online: 13 JUN 2008

DOI: 10.1002/0470848944.hsa211

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

How to Cite

Trenberth, K. E. 2008. The Impact of Climate Change and Variability on Heavy Precipitation, Floods, and Droughts. Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences. 17.

Author Information

  1. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 JUN 2008

Abstract

There is a direct influence of global warming on changes in precipitation and heavy rains. Increased heating leads to greater evaporation and thus surface drying, thereby increasing intensity and duration of drought. However, the water-holding capacity of air increases by about 7% per 1 °C warming, which leads to increased water vapor in the atmosphere, and this probably provides the biggest influence on precipitation. Storms, whether individual thunderstorms, extratropical rain or snow storms, or tropical cyclones and hurricanes, supplied by increased moisture, produce more intense precipitation events that are widely observed to be occurring, even in places where total precipitation is decreasing. In turn, this increases the risk of flooding. Patterns of where it rains also have been observed to change, with dry areas becoming drier (generally throughout the subtropics) and wet areas becoming wetter, especially in mid to high latitudes. This pattern is simulated by climate models and is projected to continue into the future. Since more precipitation occurs as rain instead of snow with warming, and snow melts earlier, there is increased runoff and risk of flooding in early spring, but increased risk of drought in deep summer, especially over continental areas.

Keywords:

  • precipitation;
  • floods;
  • droughts;
  • water vapor;
  • climate change;
  • rainfall;
  • hydrological cycle