Articles | Volume 11, issue 8
Research article
19 Aug 2011
Research article |  | 19 Aug 2011

Non-stationarity in daily and sub-daily intense rainfall – Part 1: Sydney, Australia

D. Jakob, D. J. Karoly, and A. Seed

Abstract. This study was driven by a need to clarify how variations in climate might affect intense rainfall and the potential for flooding. Sub-daily durations are of particular interest for urban applications. Worldwide, few such observation-based studies exist, which is mainly due to limitations in data. While there are still large discrepancies between precipitation data sets from observations and models, both show that there is a tendency for moist regions to become wetter and for dry regions to become drier. However, changes in extreme conditions may show the opposite sign to those in average conditions. Where changes in observed intense precipitation have been studied, this has typically been for daily durations or longer.

The purpose of this two-part study is to examine daily and sub-daily rainfall extremes for evidence of non-stationarity. Here the problem was addressed by supplementing one long record (Part 1) by a set of shorter records for a 30-yr concurrent period (Part 2). Variations in frequency and magnitude of rainfall extremes across durations from 6 min to 72 h were assessed using data from sites in the south-east of Australia. For the analyses presented in this paper, a peaks-over-threshold approach was chosen since it allows investigating changes in frequency as well as magnitude. Non-parametric approaches were used to assess changes in frequency, magnitude, and quantile estimates as well as the statistical significance of changes for one station (Sydney Observatory Hill) for the period 1921 to 2005. Deviations from the long-term average vary with season, duration, and threshold. The effects of climate variations are most readily detected for the highest thresholds. Deviations from the long-term average tend to be larger for frequencies than for magnitudes, and changes in frequency and magnitude may have opposite signs.

Investigations presented in this paper show that variations in frequency and magnitude of events at daily durations are a poor indicator of changes at sub-daily durations. Studies like the one presented here should be undertaken for other regions to allow the identification of regions with significant increase/decrease in intense rainfall, whether there are common features with regards to duration and season exhibiting most significant changes (which in turn could lead to establishing a theoretical framework), and assist in validation of projections of rainfall extremes.