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Long-Term Trends in Extreme Precipitation Events over the Conterminous United States and Canada

TitleLong-Term Trends in Extreme Precipitation Events over the Conterminous United States and Canada
Publication TypeManual Entry
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsKunkel, Kenneth E., Karen Andsager, and David R. Easterling
Journal of Climate

Abstract This paper describes the results of an analysis of trends in short duration (1–7 days) extreme precipitation events that have a recurrence interval of 1 yr or longer for stations in the United States and Canada. This definition of extreme precipitation was chosen because such events are highly correlated with hydrologic flooding in some U.S. regions. The dominant temporal characteristic of a national event composite index is significant low-frequency variability. There were lengthy periods of a below-average number of events in the 1930s and 1950s and an above-average number of events in the early 1940s, early 1980s, and 1990s. Regional variations often differ substantially from the national composite. A simple linear analysis indicates that the overall trend covering the period 1931–96 has been upward at a highly statistically significant rate over the southwest United States and in a broad region from the central Great Plains across the middle Mississippi River and southern Great Lakes basins. The national trend for the United States is upward at a rate of 3% decade−1 for the period 1931–96. While the annual trend for Canada is upward for the period 1951–93, it is not statistically significant. Although the high statistical significance of the results is partially a consequence of the low frequency during the 1930s and 1950s located in the first half of the record, the latter half of the record exhibits an upward trend nearly identical to the entire record. However, an analysis of a 101-yr record of midwestern stations shows that heavy precipitation event frequencies around the turn of the twentieth century (1896–1906) were higher than for other periods of comparable length, except for 1986–96. Although data were not available in digital form to extend the analysis back to 1896 for the entire United States, the midwestern analysis shows that interpretation of the recent upward trends must account for the possibility of significant natural forcing of variability on century timescales.

Citation Keydoi:10.1175/1520-0442(1999)012<2515:LTTIEP>2.0.CO;2