Sharpening of cold-season storms over the western United States

Xiaodong Chen, L. Ruby Leung, Yang Gao, Ying Liu, Mark Wigmosta


Department of Energy, Office of Science, Earth & Environmental Systems Modeling Program Acknowledged Support: Yes, Multisector Dynamics and Regional and Global Model Analysis


Winter storms are responsible for billion-dollar economic losses in the western United States. Because storm structures are not well resolved by global climate models, it is not well established how single events and their structures change with warming. Here we use regional storm-resolving simulations to investigate climate change impact on western US winter storms. Under a high-emissions scenario, precipitation volume from the top 20% of winter storms is projected to increase by up to 40% across the region by mid-century. The average increase in precipitation volume (31%) is contributed by 22% from increasing area coverage and 19% from increasing storm intensity, while a robust storm sharpening with larger increase in storm centre precipitation compared with increase in storm area reduces precipitation volume by 10%. Ignoring storm sharpening could result in overestimation of the changes in design storms currently used in infrastructure planning in the region.

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