Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

How well are daily intense rainfall events captured by current climate models over Africa?


The ability of state-of-the-art climate models to capture the mean spatial and temporal characteristics of daily intense rainfall events over Africa is evaluated by analyzing regional climate model (RCM) simulations at 90- and 30-km along with output from four atmospheric general circulation models (AGCMs) and coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) of the Climate Model Intercomparison Project 5. Daily intense rainfall events are extracted at grid point scale using a 95th percentile threshold approach applied to all rainy days (i.e., daily rainfall ≥1 mm day−1) over the 1998–2008 period for which two satellite-derived precipitation products are available. Both RCM simulations provide similar results. They accurately capture the spatial and temporal characteristics of intense events, while they tend to overestimate their number and underestimate their intensity. The skill of AGCMs and AOGCMs is generally similar over the African continent and similar to previous global climate model generations. The majority of the AGCMs and AOGCMs greatly overestimate the frequency of intense events, particularly in the tropics, generally fail at simulating the observed intensity, and systematically overestimate their spatial coverage. The RCM performs at least as well as the most accurate global climate model, demonstrating a clear added value to general circulation model simulations and the usefulness of regional modeling for investigating the physics leading to intense events and their change under global warming.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig. 13
Fig. 14
Fig. 15


  1. Adler R, Kidd C, Petty G, Morissey M, Goodman H (2001) Intercomparison of global precipitation products: the third Precipitation Intercomparison Project (PIP-3). Bull Am Meteor Soc 82:1377–1396

  2. Aguilar E, Barry AA, Brunet M, Ekang L, Fernandes A, Massoukina M, Mbah J, Mhanda A, do Nascimento DJ, Peterson TC, Thamba Umba O, Tomou M, Zhang X (2009) Changes in temperature and precipitation extremes in western central Africa, Guinea Conakry, and Zimbabwe, 1955–2006. J Geophys Res Atmos 114:D02115. doi:10.1029/2008JD011010

  3. Blamey RC, Reason CJC (2009) Numerical simulation of a mesoscale convective system over the east coast of South Africa. Tellus A 61:17–34

  4. Blamey RC, Reason CJC (2013) The role of mesoscale convective complexes in southern Africa summer rainfall. J Clim 26:1654–1668

  5. Boyle J, Klein SA (2010) Impact of horizontal resolution on climate model forecasts of tropical precipitation and diabatic heating for the TWP-ICE period, J Geophys Res 115. doi:101029/2010JD014262

  6. Chen F, Dudhia J (2001) Coupling an advanced land-surface/hydrology model with the Penn State/NCAR MM5 modeling system. Part I: model description and implementation. Mon Weather Rev 129:569–585

  7. Chen SH, Sun WY (2002) A one-dimensional time dependent cloud model. J Meteor Soc Japan 80:99–118

  8. Chen M, Dickinson RE, Zeng X, Hahmann AN (1996) Comparison of precipitation observed over the continental United States to that simulated by a climate model. J Clim 9:2233–2249

  9. Cook KH, Vizy EK (2012) Impact of climate change on mid-twenty-first century growing seasons in Africa. Clim Dyn 39:2937–2955

  10. Crétat J (2011) Rainfall and atmospheric circulation simulated by the WRF regional climate model in Southern Africa: sensitivity to the physics and internal variability. University of Burgundy, PhD dissertation

  11. Crétat J, Pohl B, Richard Y, Drobinski P (2012) Uncertainties in simulating regional climate of Southern Africa: sensitivity to physical parameterizations using WRF. Clim Dyn 38:613–634

  12. Dai A (2006) Precipitation characteristics in eighteen coupled climate models. J Clim 19:4605–4630

  13. Dai A, Giorgi F, Trenberth KE (1999) Observed and model simulated precipitation diurnal cycles over the contiguous United States. J Geophys Res 104:6377–6402

  14. Dinku T, Ceccato P, Grover-Kopec E, Lemma M, Connor SJ, Ropelewski CF (2007) Validation of satellite rainfall products over East Africa’s complex topography. Int J Rem Sens 28:1503–1526

  15. Dudhia J (1989) Numerical study of convection observed during the winter experiment using a mesoscale two-dimensional model. J Atmos Sci 46:3077–3107

  16. Durkee JD, Mote TL, Sheppard JM (2009) The contribution of mesoscale convective complexes to rainfall across subtropical South America. J Clim 22:4590–4605

  17. Easterling DR, Evans JL, Groisman PY, Karl TR, Kunkel KE, Ambenje P (2000) Observed variability and trends in extreme climate events: a brief review. Bull Am Meteor Soc 81:417–425

  18. Ebert E, Manton M, Arkin P, Allam R, Holpin G, Gruber A (1996) Results from the GPCP algorithm intercomparison programme. Bull Am Meteor Soc 77:2875–2887

  19. Frich P, Alexander LV, Della-Marta P, Gleason B, Haylock M, Klien Tank AMG, Peterson T (2002) Observed coherent changes in climatic extremes during the second half of the twentieth century. Clim Res 19:193–212

  20. Hart NCG, Reason CJC, Fauchereau N (2010) Tropical–extratropical interactions over southern Africa: three cases of heavy summer season rainfall. Mon Weather Rev 138:2608–2623

  21. Hong SY, Noh Y, Dudhia J (2006) A new vertical diffusion package with an explicit treatment of entrainment processes. Mon Weather Rev 134:2318–2341

  22. Huffman GJ, Bolvin DT (2013) TRMM and other data precipitation data set documentation. ftp://rsd.gsfc.nasa.gov/pub/trmmdocs/3B42_3B43_doc.pdf

  23. Huffman GJ, Adler RF, Bolvin DT, Gu G, Nelkin EJ, Bowman KP, Hong Y, Stocker EF, Wolff DB (2007) The TRMM multi-satellite precipitation analysis: quasi-global, multi-year, combined-sensor precipitation estimates at fine scale. J Hydrometeor 8:38–55

  24. Huffman GJ, Adler RF, Bolvin DT, Gu G (2009) Improving the global precipitation record: GPCP Version 2.1. Geophys Res Lett 36:L17808. doi:10.1029/2009GL040000

  25. Ibrahim B, Polcher J, Karambiri H, Rockel B (2012) Characterization of the rainy season in Burkina Faso and it’s representation by regional climate models. Clim Dyn 39:1287–1302

  26. Jiang H, Zipser EJ (2010) Contribution of tropical cyclones to the global precipitation from eight seasons of TRMM data: regional, seasonal, and interannual variations. J Clim 23:1526–1543

  27. Jones C, Giorgi F, Asrar G (2011) The Coordinated regional downscaling experiment: CORDEX. An international downscaling link to CMIP5. CLIVAR Exch 16:34–40

  28. Kain JS (2004) The Kain-Fritsch convective parameterization: an update. J Appl Meteorol 43:170–181

  29. Kamiguchi K, Kitoh A, Uchiyama T, Mizuta R, Noda A (2006) Changes in precipitation-based extremes indices due to global warming projected by a global 20-km-mesh atmospheric model. SOLA 2:64–67

  30. Kanamitsu M, Ebisuzaki W, Woollen J, Yang SK, Hnilo JJ, Fiorino M, Potter GL (2002) NCEP-DOE AMIP-II Reanalysis (R2). Bull Am Meteor Soc 83:1631–1643

  31. Kendon EJ, Rowell DP, Jones RG, Buonomo E (2008) Robustness of future changes in local precipitation extremes. J Clim 21:4280–4297

  32. Kendon EJ, Roberts NM, Senior CA, Roberts MJ (2012) Realism of rainfall in a very high-resolution regional climate model. J Clim 25:5791–5806

  33. Klein Tank AMG, Zwiers FW, Zhang X (2009) Climate data and monitoring WCDMP-705 NO. 72, WMO-TD No. 1500, 56 pp

  34. Knippertz P, Martin JE (2005) Tropical plumes and extreme precipitation in subtropical and tropical West Africa. Q J R Meteorol Soc 131:2337–2365

  35. Laprise R (2008) Regional climate modelling. J Comput Phys 227:3641–3666

  36. Leduc M, Laprise R (2009) Regional climate model sensitivity to domain size. Clim Dyn 32:833–854

  37. Li F, Collins WD, Wehner MF, Williamson DL, Olson JG (2011a) Response of precipitation extremes to global warming in an aqua-planet climate model: towards robust projection from regional to global scales. Tellus 63:876–883

  38. Li F, Collins WD, Wehner MF, Williamson DL, Olson JG, Algieri C (2011b) Impact of horizontal resolution on simulation of precipitation extremes in an aqua-planet version of the Community Atmosphere Model (CAM). Tellus 63:884–892

  39. Li F, Rosa D, Collins WD, Wehner MF (2012) ‘‘Super-parameterization’’: a better way to simulate regional extreme precipitation? J Adv Mod Earth Syst. doi:10.1029/2011MS000106

  40. Mearns LO, Giorgi F, McDaniel L, Shield C (1995) Analysis of daily variability or precipitation in a nested regional climate model: comparison with observations and doubled CO2 results. Glob Planet Chang 10:55–78

  41. Meehl GA, Stocker TF, Collins WD, Friedlingstein P, Gaye AT, Gregory JM, Kitoh A, Knutti R, Murphy JM, Noda A, Raper SCB, Watterson IG, Weaver AJ, Zhao ZC (2007) Global climate projections. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA

  42. Mlawer E, Taubman S, Brown P, Iacono M, Clough S (1997) Radiative transfer for inhomogeneous atmosphere: RRTM, a validated correlated-k model for the long-wave. J Geophys Res 102:16663–16682

  43. New M, Hewitson B, Stephenson DB, Tsiga A, Kruger A, Manhique A, Gomez B, Coelho CAS, Masisi DN, Kululanga E, Mbambalala E, Adesina F, Saleh H, Kanyanga J, Adosi J, Bulane L, Fortunata L, Mdoka ML, Lajoie R (2006) Evidence of trends in daily climate extremes over southern and West Africa. J Geophys Res Atmos 111, doi:10.1029/2005JD006289

  44. Nicholls SD, Mohr KI (2010) An analysis of the environments of intense convective systems in West Africa in 2003. Mon Weather Rev 138:3721–3739

  45. Nicholson SE, Some B, McCollum J, Nelkin E, Klotter D, Berte Y, Diallo BM, Gaye I, Kpabeba G, Ndiaye O, Noukpozounkou JN, Tanu MM, Thiam A, Toure AA, Traore AK (2003) Validation of TRMM and other rainfall estimates with a high-density gauge dataset for West Africa. Part I: validation of GPCC rainfall product and Pre-TRMM satellite and blended products. J Appl Meteorol 42:1337–1354

  46. Nikulin G, Jones C, Giorgi F, Asrar G, Buchner M, Cerezo-Mota R, Christensen OB, Déqué M, Fernandez J, Hansler A, van Meijgaard E, Samuelsson P, Sylla MB, Sushama L (2012) Precipitation climatology in an ensemble of CORDEX-Africa regional climate simulations. J Clim 25:6057–6078

  47. Patricola CM, Cook KH (2010) Northern African climate at the end of the twenty-first century: an integrated application of regional and global climate models. Clim Dyn 35:193–212

  48. Patricola CM, Cook KH (2011) Sub-Saharan Northern African climate at the end of the twenty-first century: forcing factors and climate change processes. Clim Dyn 37:1165–1188

  49. Randall DA, Wood RA, Bony S, Colman R, Fichefet T, Fyfe J, Kattsov V, Pitman A, Shukla J, Srinivasan J, Stouffer RJ, Sumi A, Taylor KE (2007) Climate models and their evaluation. In: Solomon, S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA

  50. Rauscher SA, Coppola E, Piani C, Giorgi F (2010) Resolution effects on regional climate model simulations of seasonal precipitation over Europe. Clim Dyn 35:685–711

  51. Rocha A, Melo-Goncalves P, Marques C, Ferreira J, Castanheira JM (2008) High-frequency precipitation changes in southeastern Africa due to anthropogenic forcing. Int J Climatol 28:1239–1253

  52. Shongwe ME, van Oldenborgh GJ, van den Hurk BJJM, de Boer B, Coelho CAS, van Aalst MK (2009) Projected changes in mean and extreme precipitation in Africa under Global Warming. Part I: Southern Africa. J Clim 22:3819–3837

  53. Shongwe ME, van Oldenborgh GJ, van den Hurk BJJM, van Aalst MK (2011) Projected changes in mean and extreme precipitation in Africa under Global Warming. Part II: East Africa. J Clim 24:3718–3733

  54. Skamarock W, Klemp JB, Dudhia J, Gill D, Barker D, Duda M, Huang X, Wang W, Powers J (2008) A description of the advanced research WRF version 3. NCAR Technical Note, NCAR/TN\u2013475? STR, 123 pp. http://www.mmm.ucar.edu/wrf/users/docs/arw_v3.pdf

  55. Stensrud DJ (2007) Parameterization schemes: keys to understanding numerical weather prediction models. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

  56. Sun Y, Solomon S, Dai A, Portmann RW (2006) How often does it rain? J Clim 19:916–934

  57. Sun Y, Solomon S, Dai A, Portmann RW (2007) How often will it rain? J Clim 20:4801–4818

  58. Sylla MB, Gaye AT, Jenkins GS, Pal JS, Giorgi F (2010a) Consistency of projected drought over the Sahel with changes in the monsoon circulation and extremes in a regional climate model projections. J Geophys Res Atmo 115:D16108. doi:10.1029/2009JD012983

  59. Sylla MB, Coppola E, Mariotti L, Giorgi F, Ruti PM, Dell’Aquila A, Bi X (2010b) Multiyear simulation of the African climate using a regional climate model (RegCM3) with the high resolution ERA-interim reanalysis. Clim Dyn 35:231–247

  60. Sylla MB, Gaye AT, Jenkins GS (2012a) On the fine-scale topography regulating changes in atmospheric hydrological cycle and extreme rainfall over West Africa in a regional climate model projections. Int J Geophys. doi:10.1155/2012/981649

  61. Sylla MB, Giorgi F, Coppola E, Mariotti L (2012b) Uncertainties in daily rainfall over Africa: assessment of gridded observation products and evaluation of a regional climate model simulation. Int J Climatol. doi:10.1002/joc.3551

  62. Taylor KE (2001) Summarizing multiple aspects of model performance in a single diagram. J Geophys Res 106:7183–7192

  63. Taylor KE, Stouffer RJ, Meehl GA (2011) An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull Am Meteorol Soc. doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00094.1

  64. Tebaldi C, Hayhoe K, Arblaster JM, Meehl GA (2006) Going to extremes. An intercomparison of model-simulated historical and future changes in extreme events. Clim Chang 79:185–211

  65. Vizy EK, Cook KH (2012) Mid-twenty-first-century changes in extreme events over Northern and Tropical Africa. J Clim 25:5748–5767

  66. Vizy EK, Cook KH, Crétat J, Neupane N (2013) Projections of a wetter Sahel in the 21st century from global and regional models. J Clim. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00533.1

  67. Wehner MF, Smith RL, Bala G, Duffy P (2010) The effect of horizontal resolution on simulation of very extreme US precipitation events in a global atmosphere model. Clim Dyn 34:241–247

  68. Wilks DS (2011) Statistical methods in the atmospheric sciences. Academic Press, 3rd edn. ISBN 978-0-12-385022-5

  69. Williams CJR, Kniveton DR, Layberry R (2008) Influence of South Atlantic sea surface temperatures on rainfall variability and extremes over Southern Africa. J Clim 21:6498–6520

  70. Williams CJR, Kniveton DR, Layberry R (2010) Assessment of a climate model to reproduce rainfall variability and extremes over Southern Africa. Theor Appl Climatol 99:9–27

Download references


Support from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (award DE-FG02-10ER65092) is gratefully acknowledged. WRF was provided by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (http://www.mmm.ucar.edu/wrf/users/download/get_source.html). Simulations are performed on the high performance computing platform at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas at Austin. We also gratefully acknowledge the GCM modeling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI), and the World Climate Research Program’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling (WGCM) for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP5 multi-model dataset. Support of this dataset is provided by the Office of Science, U. S. Department of Energy. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Author information

Correspondence to Julien Crétat.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Crétat, J., Vizy, E.K. & Cook, K.H. How well are daily intense rainfall events captured by current climate models over Africa?. Clim Dyn 42, 2691–2711 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-013-1796-7

Download citation


  • Africa
  • Daily intense rainfall
  • Regional climate model