Evaluation of the Tail of the Probability Distribution of Daily and Subdaily Precipitation in CMIP6 Models


Norris, Jesse, A Hall, JD Neelin, C Thackeray, and D Chen. 2021. “Evaluation of the Tail of the Probability Distribution of Daily and Subdaily Precipitation in CMIP6 Models.” Journal of Climate 34 (7): 2701–2721.


Daily and subdaily precipitation extremes in historical phase 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) simulations are evaluated against satellite-based observational estimates. Extremes are defined as the precipitation amount exceeded every x years, ranging from 0.01 to 10, encompassing the rarest events that are detectable in the observational record without noisy results. With increasing temporal resolution there is an increased discrepancy between models and observations: for daily extremes, the multimodel median underestimates the highest percentiles by about a third, and for 3-hourly extremes by about 75% in the tropics. The novelty of the current study is that, to understand the model spread, we evaluate the 3D structure of the atmosphere when extremes occur. In midlatitudes, where extremes are simulated predominantly explicitly, the intuitive relationship exists whereby higher-resolution models produce larger extremes (r = −0.49), via greater vertical velocity. In the tropics, the convective fraction (the fraction of precipitation simulated directly from the convective scheme) is more relevant. For models below 60% convective fraction, precipitation amount decreases with convective fraction (r = −0.63), but above 75% convective fraction, this relationship breaks down. In the lower-convective-fraction models, there is more moisture in the lower troposphere, closer to saturation. In the higher-convective-fraction models, there is deeper convection and higher cloud tops, which appears to be more physical. Thus, the low-convective models are mostly closer to the observations of extreme precipitation in the tropics, but likely for the wrong reasons. These intermodel differences in the environment in which extremes are simulated hold clues into how parameterizations could be modified in general circulation models to produce more credible twenty-first-century projections.

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Last updated on 06/23/2021