The role of cyclonic activity in tropical temperature-rainfall scaling

Dominik Traxl, Niklas Boers, Aljoscha Rheinwalt, Bodo Bookhagen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The attribution of changing intensity of rainfall extremes to global warming is a key challenge of climate research. From a thermodynamic perspective, via the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship, rainfall events are expected to become stronger due to the increased water-holding capacity of a warmer atmosphere. Here, we employ global, 1-hourly temperature and 3-hourly rainfall data to investigate the scaling between temperature and extreme rainfall. Although the Clausius-Clapeyron scaling of +7% rainfall intensity increase per degree warming roughly holds on a global average, we find very heterogeneous spatial patterns. Over tropical oceans, we reveal areas with consistently strong negative scaling (below −40%C−1). We show that the negative scaling is due to a robust linear correlation between pre-rainfall cooling of near-surface air temperature and extreme rainfall intensity. We explain this correlation by atmospheric and oceanic dynamics associated with cyclonic activity. Our results emphasize that thermodynamic arguments alone are not enough to attribute changing rainfall extremes to global warming. Circulation dynamics must also be thoroughly considered.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6732
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


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