Can we infer rainfall sensitivity to global warming using observations of precipitation and temperature? Not quite, until you correct for the cooling effects of clouds.

Rainfall events are expected to become heavier as the hydrologic cycle intensifies with global warming. To determine this strengthening, many studies use observed precipitation events and test how these change with observed temperatures. These so-called scaling rates differ from what is expected from theory, showing a decline above temperatures of around 23° – 25°C. This breakdown in scaling makes it difficult to interpret the precipitation response to global warming and its cause further remains unclear. It also raises the question of whether a high-temperature threshold limits the increase in the intensity of precipitation events with temperature. We resolve this in our latest paper by showing that the break in scaling primarily occurs due to radiative effect of clouds on surface temperatures that leads to a covariation between the two variables.

Continue reading “Can we infer rainfall sensitivity to global warming using observations of precipitation and temperature? Not quite, until you correct for the cooling effects of clouds.”