Urban precipitation extremes: How reliable are regional climate models?

Vimal Mishra, Francina Dominguez, Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We evaluate the ability of regional climate models (RCMs) that participated in the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP) to reproduce the historical season of occurrence, mean, and variability of 3 and 24-hour precipitation extremes for 100 urban areas across the United States. We show that RCMs with both reanalysis and global climate model (GCM) boundary conditions behave similarly and underestimate 3-hour precipitation maxima across almost the entire U.S. RCMs with both boundary conditions broadly capture the season of occurrence of precipitation maxima except in the interior of the western U.S. and the southeastern U.S. On the other hand, the RCMs do much better in identifying the season of 24-hour precipitation maxima. For mean annual precipitation maxima, regardless of the boundary condition, RCMs consistently show high (low) bias for locations in the western (eastern) U.S. Our results indicate that RCM-simulated 3-hour precipitation maxima at 100-year return period could be considered acceptable for stormwater infrastructure design at less than 12% of the 100 urban areas (regardless of boundary conditions). RCM performance for 24-hour precipitation maxima was slightly better, with performance acceptable for stormwater infrastructure design judged adequate at about 25% of the urban areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL03407
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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