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On the Development and Demise of the Fall 2019 Southeast U.S. Flash Drought: Links to an Extreme Positive IOD

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  • 1 Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, NASA GSFC, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • | 2 Science Systems and Applications, Inc., Lanham, Maryland
  • | 3 Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland
  • | 4 Climate Prediction Center, NCEP/NWS/NOAA, College Park, Maryland
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Abstract

Much of the southeast United States experienced record dry conditions during September of 2019, with the area in abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions growing from 25% at the beginning of the month to 80% by the end of the month. The drought ended just as abruptly due to above-normal rain that fell during the second half of October. In this study we employed MERRA-2 and the GEOS-5 AGCM to diagnose the underlying causes of the drought’s onset, maintenance, and demise. The basic approach involves performing a series of AGCM simulations in which the model is constrained to remain close to MERRA-2 over prespecified areas that are external to the drought region. The start of the drought appears to have been forced by anomalous heating in the central/western tropical Pacific that resulted in low-level anticyclonic flow and a tendency for descending motion over much of the Southeast. An anomalous ridge associated with a Rossby wave train (emanating from the Indian Ocean region) is found to be the main source of the most intense temperature and precipitation anomalies that develop over the Southeast during the last week of September. A second Rossby wave train (emanating from the same region) is responsible for the substantial rain that fell during the second half of October to end the drought. The links to the Indian Ocean dipole (with record positive values) as well as a waning El Niño allow some speculation as to the likelihood of similar events occurring in the future.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Siegfried Schubert, siegfried.d.schubert@nasa.gov

Abstract

Much of the southeast United States experienced record dry conditions during September of 2019, with the area in abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions growing from 25% at the beginning of the month to 80% by the end of the month. The drought ended just as abruptly due to above-normal rain that fell during the second half of October. In this study we employed MERRA-2 and the GEOS-5 AGCM to diagnose the underlying causes of the drought’s onset, maintenance, and demise. The basic approach involves performing a series of AGCM simulations in which the model is constrained to remain close to MERRA-2 over prespecified areas that are external to the drought region. The start of the drought appears to have been forced by anomalous heating in the central/western tropical Pacific that resulted in low-level anticyclonic flow and a tendency for descending motion over much of the Southeast. An anomalous ridge associated with a Rossby wave train (emanating from the Indian Ocean region) is found to be the main source of the most intense temperature and precipitation anomalies that develop over the Southeast during the last week of September. A second Rossby wave train (emanating from the same region) is responsible for the substantial rain that fell during the second half of October to end the drought. The links to the Indian Ocean dipole (with record positive values) as well as a waning El Niño allow some speculation as to the likelihood of similar events occurring in the future.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Siegfried Schubert, siegfried.d.schubert@nasa.gov
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