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Keywords:

  • precipitation;
  • rainfall;
  • climate change;
  • extremes;
  • United States

Abstract

Over the course of the 20th century, average annual precipitation for the contiguous USA has increased by nearly 10%. This increase has been described as being dominated by ‘disproportionate’ increases in extreme precipitation events. However, methodological constraints have confounded detailed interpretation of such results. Here, we briefly describe those limitations and re-evaluate the nature of the observed precipitation changes using a method that allows for a more accurate examination of changes in the proportion of precipitation delivered in extreme daily events. We focus our analysis only on the trends in precipitation on the 10 wettest days of the year and compare the trends observed on those days with the trend in overall precipitation. When averaged across the USA, we find that the precipitation trends on the 10 wettest days of the year are not significantly different from the trend in total overall precipitation. On a regional level, in the northeast and southeast there is some evidence that the rate of precipitation increase on the wettest days exceeds that of total precipitation, whereas in the rest of the country the precipitation on the wettest days is increasing at a rate less than the increase in total precipitation. Copyright © 2004 Royal Meteorological Society