Effects of Prior Precipitation and Source Area Characteristics on Threshold Wind Velocities for Blowing Dust Episodes, Sonoran Desert 1948–78

Troy Leon Holcombe NOAA/National Geophysical Data Center, Boulder, Colorado

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Trevor Ley NOAA/Atmospheric Resources Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

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Dale A. Gillette NOAA/Atmospheric Resources Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

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Abstract

A better understanding of the effects of precipitation and source area on blowing dust in the Sonoran Desert has been sought through the study of 1190 dust episodes occurring during the 1948–78 time period at Blythe, California, and Yuma, Arizona. Threshold mean hourly wind speeds (MHWSs) increase directly with prior precipitation in proportion to the inhibiting effect of the vegetation canopy, which blooms following periods of increased precipitation. Because of the time required for the vegetation canopy to fully develop and the persistence of the vegetation canopy once developed, correlation between the threshold MHWS and precipitation is highest for 4–6-month windows of total precipitation prior to each dust event at both stations. Many dust events associated with unusually low MHWSs are clustered in time, and these events can be correlated with interstate highway construction and soil preparation for new irrigation projects. Since threshold MHWSs for blowing dust lie well below the recorded MHWSs during most dust events at most times, it is possible to predict that mean annual precipitation could in the future increase to about 8 cm per 6 months without significantly reducing the occurrence of blowing dust episodes. On the other hand, increases in future mean annual precipitation to 10–12 cm per 6 months would raise the threshold MHWS to the point that conditions for blowing dust would be substantially reduced. Many of the infrequently occurring periods of elevated precipitation correlate in time with El Niño–Southern Oscillation events, which typically repeat every 2–8 yr. Average MHWSs, and threshold MHWSs for blowing dust, vary with wind direction at Blythe and Yuma. These variations can be related to variations in the susceptibility of upwind source areas in most instances, but in one or more instances this variation may be related to storm type.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Troy Leon Holcombe, NOAA/National Geophysical Data Center, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80303-3328.

info@ngdc.noaa.gov

Abstract

A better understanding of the effects of precipitation and source area on blowing dust in the Sonoran Desert has been sought through the study of 1190 dust episodes occurring during the 1948–78 time period at Blythe, California, and Yuma, Arizona. Threshold mean hourly wind speeds (MHWSs) increase directly with prior precipitation in proportion to the inhibiting effect of the vegetation canopy, which blooms following periods of increased precipitation. Because of the time required for the vegetation canopy to fully develop and the persistence of the vegetation canopy once developed, correlation between the threshold MHWS and precipitation is highest for 4–6-month windows of total precipitation prior to each dust event at both stations. Many dust events associated with unusually low MHWSs are clustered in time, and these events can be correlated with interstate highway construction and soil preparation for new irrigation projects. Since threshold MHWSs for blowing dust lie well below the recorded MHWSs during most dust events at most times, it is possible to predict that mean annual precipitation could in the future increase to about 8 cm per 6 months without significantly reducing the occurrence of blowing dust episodes. On the other hand, increases in future mean annual precipitation to 10–12 cm per 6 months would raise the threshold MHWS to the point that conditions for blowing dust would be substantially reduced. Many of the infrequently occurring periods of elevated precipitation correlate in time with El Niño–Southern Oscillation events, which typically repeat every 2–8 yr. Average MHWSs, and threshold MHWSs for blowing dust, vary with wind direction at Blythe and Yuma. These variations can be related to variations in the susceptibility of upwind source areas in most instances, but in one or more instances this variation may be related to storm type.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Troy Leon Holcombe, NOAA/National Geophysical Data Center, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80303-3328.

info@ngdc.noaa.gov

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