Climatic variability can lead to large-scale alterations in the hydrologic cycle, some of which can be characterized in terms of indices involving precipitation depth, duration and frequency. This study evaluated the spatiotemporal behavior of precipitation indices over the Kentucky River watershed for both the baseline period of 1986–2015 and late-century time frame of 2070–2099. Historical precipitation data were collected from 16 weather stations in the watershed, while future rainfall time-series were obtained from an ensemble of 10 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) global circulation models under two future emission pathways: Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5. Annual trends in seven precipitation indices were analyzed: total precipitation on wet days (PRCPTOT), maximum length (in days) of dry and wet periods (CDD and CWD, respectively), number of days with precipitation depth ≥ 20 mm (R20mm), maximum five-day precipitation depth (RX5day), simple daily precipitation index (SDII) and standardized precipitation index (SPI, a measure of drought severity). Non-parametric Mann–Kendall test results indicated significant trends for only ≈11% of the station-index combinations, corresponding to generally increasing trends in PRCPTOT, CWD, R20mm and RX5day and negative trends for the others. Projected magnitudes for PRCPTOT, CDD, CWD, RX5day and SPI, indices associated with the macroweather regime, demonstrated general consistency with trends previously identified and indicated modest increases in PRCPTOT and CWD, slight decrease in CDD, mixed results for RX5day, and increased non-drought years in the late century relative to the baseline period. Late-century projections for the remaining indices (SDII, R20mm) demonstrated behavior counter to trends in the trends identified in the baseline period data, suggesting that these indices—which are more closely linked with the weather regime and daily GCM outputs—were relatively less robust.

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Published in Water, v. 9, issue 2, 109, p. 1-20.

© 2017 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Hatch-Multistate Project under 1006093.

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This is Publication No. 16-05-089 of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published with the approval of the Director.