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Forecast: Gullywashers

Models not accurately predicting intense rains of warmer climate

Climate simulations are underestimating how often intense rainstorms occur at warm temperatures, new analyses of weather data suggest. If true, the findings indicate that episodes of extremely strong precipitation, usually accompanied by flooding, will strike more often if the global average temperature continues to rise.

Scientists have long known that the warmer the air is, the more water vapor it can hold. That increased moisture-hoarding capacity also means that precipitation, once triggered, can be more intense, says Richard P. Allan, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in England. On average, the atmosphere holds 7 percent more water for each 1 degree Celsius rise in air temperature, he notes.

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