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Precipitation extremes and the impacts of climate change on stormwater infrastructure in Washington State
Rosenberg, E.A., P.W. Keys, D.B. Booth, D. Hartley, J. Burkey, A.C. Steinemann, and D.P. Lettenmaier. 2010. Precipitation extremes and the impacts of climate change on stormwater infrastructure in Washington State. Climatic Change 102(1-2): 319-349, doi: 10.1007/s10584-010-9847-0.
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The design of stormwater infrastructure is based on an underlying assumption that the probability distribution of precipitation extremes is statistically stationary. This assumption is called into question by climate change, resulting in uncertainty about the future performance of systems constructed under this paradigm. We therefore examined both historical precipitation records and simulations of future rainfall to evaluate past and prospective changes in the probability distributions of precipitation extremes across Washington State.
Our historical analyses were based on hourly precipitation records for the time period 1949–2007 from weather stations in and near the state’s three major metropolitan areas: the Puget Sound region, Vancouver (WA), and Spokane. Changes in future precipitation were evaluated using two runs of the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) regional climate model (RCM) for the time periods 1970–2000 and 2020–2050, dynamically downscaled from the ECHAM5 and CCSM3 global climate models. Bias-corrected and statistically downscaled hourly precipitation sequences were then used as input to the HSPF hydrologic model to simulate streamflow in two urban watersheds in central Puget Sound.
Few statistically significant changes were observed in the historical records, with the possible exception of the Puget Sound region. Although RCM simulations generally predict increases in extreme rainfall magnitudes, the range of these projections is too large at present to provide a basis for engineering design, and can only be narrowed through consideration of a larger sample of simulated climate data. Nonetheless, the evidence suggests that drainage infrastructure designed using mid-20th century rainfall records may be subject to a future rainfall regime that differs from current design standards.