Western U.S. (WUS) rainfall and snowpack vary greatly on interannual and decadal timescales. This combined with their importance to water resources makes future projections of these variables highly societally relevant. Previous studies have shown that precipitation events in the WUS are influenced by the timing, positioning, and duration of extreme integrated water vapor transport (IVT) events (e.g., atmospheric rivers) along the coast. We investigate end-of-21st-century projections of WUS precipitation and IVT in a collection of regional climate models (RCMs) from the North American Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment (NA-CORDEX).
Several of the NA-CORDEX RCMs project a decrease in cool season precipitation at high elevation (e.g., across the Sierra Nevada) with a corresponding increase in the Great Basin of the U.S. We explore the causes of this terrain-related precipitation change in a subset of the NA-CORDEX RCMs through an examination of IVT-events. Projected changes in frequency and duration of IVT-events depend on the event's extremity: By the end of the century extreme IVT-events increase in frequency whereas moderate IVT-events decrease in frequency. Furthermore, in the future, total precipitation across the WUS generally increases during extreme IVT-events, whereas total precipitation from moderate IVT-events decreases across higher elevations. Thus, we argue that the mean cool season precipitation decreases at high elevations and increases in the Great Basin are largely determined by changes in moderate IVT-events which are projected to be less frequent and bring less high-elevation precipitation.