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Dr Lizzie Kendon

Dr Lizzie Kendon specialises in studying how heavy rainfall may change in the future. This includes changes in short intense downpours, caused by convective storms which can lead to severe flash flooding. Recently, she led a landmark study into the impact of climate change on this very specific type of weather - and how it might affect us in the future.

Lizzie's interest in meteorology grew out of a passion for mountaineering, where good weather and accurate forecasting are vital for the safety of any excursion. But it was concerns over climate change that drew her to focus on how weather extremes may change in future, as part of the Met Office's Understanding Climate Change group.

"Extreme rainfall has considerable impacts on society through flooding and drought - so it is crucially important to study how convective storms may change in the future due to climate change," explains Lizzie.

Stormy skies

Convective storms are triggered when heat from the Earth's surface combines with humidity in the atmosphere, which means they usually happen in the warmer months of summer.

They last for just a short period of time and tend to be fairly localised. This brings a unique set of challenges when studying them over long time periods.

"Convective rainfall is not well-represented in typical climate models, which means there's considerable uncertainty as to how it could change in the future."

To investigate possible future effects of convective storms, Lizzie ran the world's first very high-resolution climate change experiments looking at changes in hourly rainfall. These were conducted using the Met Office's weather forecasting model, which can study the weather across areas of the country just 1.5 km squared in size. This high-resolution model was applied to a climate change timescale that covered the present-day (1996 to 2009) - and a second one that encompassed another 13-year stretch, starting from the year 2100. The results, Lizzie says, were pretty startling.

"They showed future increases in the frequency of short duration, intense rainfall, not seen at the coarser resolution of typical climate models."

Put to the test

Lizzie's experiments broke new ground in the world of climatology and delivered results that could have wider benefits for the Met Office. They demonstrated how the high-resolution model performs over a long timescale and highlighted where possible improvements could be made - which, in turn, could influence weather forecasts over shorter timescales.

What's more, high-resolution experiments enable climate scientists to test typical climate models. Lizzie points out that, while it's vital to identify changes that lower resolution models can't show, it's conversely also essential to know where very high-resolution models don't add anything. As Lizzie says, "This helps gives us confidence in the value of using coarser level simulations in a range of situations."

Looking to the future

What next? So far, research into convective rainfall has focused purely on one small region of the UK. The obvious next step is to roll this out across a wider area.

"It took nine months for the Met Office supercomputer to run each 13-year climate simulation," says Lizzie. "Now we're hoping to work with other organisations across the UK and Europe on this sort of research so we can start to pull our results together."

Carrying out research is just one part of Lizzie's role. The other is to publicise the findings - in reports, journals, radio and newspaper interviews, as well as at international conferences. Last December, she spoke at the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) 20 in Lima, which called for greater action to build resilience to climate change across the developing world.

Lizzie is proud that her research supports a deeper understanding of the effects of climate change.

"Flash flooding can pose a real threat to communities," she says. "And until this study we really haven't had much of an idea about how these sorts of events might change in the future. It's very important to understand these effects."