Precipitation-gauge observations and atmospheric reanalysis are combined to develop an analogue method for detecting heavy precipitation events based on prevailing large-scale atmospheric conditions. Combinations of atmospheric variables for circulation (geopotential height and wind vector) and moisture (surface specific humidity, column and up to 500-hPa precipitable water) are examined to construct analogue schemes for the winter [December–February (DJF)] of the “Pacific Coast California” (PCCA) region and the summer [June–August (JJA)] of the Midwestern United States (MWST). The detection diagnostics of analogue schemes are calibrated with 1979–2005 and validated with 2006–14 NASA Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA). All analogue schemes are found to significantly improve upon MERRA precipitation in characterizing the occurrence and interannual variations of observed heavy precipitation events in the MWST. When evaluated with the late twentieth-century climate model simulations from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5), all analogue schemes produce model medians of heavy precipitation frequency that are more consistent with observations and have smaller intermodel discrepancies than model-based precipitation. Under the representative concentration pathways (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5 scenarios, the CMIP5-based analogue schemes produce trends in heavy precipitation occurrence through the twenty-first century that are consistent with model-based precipitation, but with smaller intermodel disparity. The median trends in heavy precipitation frequency are positive for DJF over PCCA but are slightly negative for JJA over MWST. Overall, the analyses highlight the potential of the analogue as a powerful diagnostic tool for model deficiencies and its complementarity to an evaluation of heavy precipitation frequency based on model precipitation alone.