Changes to Middle East and Southwest Asia Compound Drought and Heat since 1999

Andrew Hoell aNOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

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Rachel Robinson aNOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado
bCooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado

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Laurie Agel cDepartment of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts

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Mathew Barlow cDepartment of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts

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Melissa Breeden bCooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado

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Jon Eischeid bCooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado

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Amy McNally dNASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

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Kimberly Slinski dNASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
eEarth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, Maryland

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Xiao-Wei Quan aNOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado
bCooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado

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Abstract

We diagnose physical factors related to frequent compound drought and heat extremes over a Middle East and Southwest Asia (MESA; 30°–40°N, 35°–65°E) region in a recent (1999–2022) compared to a prior (1951–98) period. The recent compound extremes were related to conflict, disease transmission, and water shortages in this already semiarid region. Observed estimates and four transient climate model ensembles are used to identify the effect of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and atmospheric forcing by greenhouse gases and aerosols on these compound extremes in autumn (September–November), winter (December–February), spring (March–May), and summer (June–August) that may lead to practical forecast skill for future compound events. Observations and climate models indicate that MESA compound drought and heat in the autumn, winter, and spring wet seasons for the recent period were related to the La Niña phase of ENSO and an attendant northward shift of the storm track that hinders precipitation-bearing storms from moving through MESA. A comparison of different conditions in the model simulations is used to isolate the effects of La Niña and the atmospheric forcing by greenhouse gases and aerosols on compound MESA drought and heat. A comparison of recent and prior periods in the climate models, which isolates the effects of the atmospheric forcing, indicates that greenhouse gases and aerosols are related to the increases in MESA heat frequency in all seasons. A comparison of La Niña to ENSO neutral and El Niño in the recent period of the climate models indicates that La Niña is related to increases in MESA drought frequency in the wet seasons.

Significance Statement

Compound drought and heat pose serious threats to the Middle East and Southwest Asia (MESA) where political and socioeconomic challenges leave its people vulnerable to climate extremes. In this region, frequent seasonal compound drought and heat in a recent (1999–2022) compared to a prior (1951–98) period were related to conflict and water shortages. Physical factors related to these compound extremes in the recent period over MESA were identified, potentially rendering future occurrences predictable. La Niña and atmospheric forcing by greenhouse gases and aerosols contributed to the compound extremes, with the former related to anomalously low precipitation in the September–November, December–February, and March–May wet seasons and the latter related to anomalous high temperatures in all seasons, including June–August.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Andrew Hoell, andrew.hoell@noaa.gov

Abstract

We diagnose physical factors related to frequent compound drought and heat extremes over a Middle East and Southwest Asia (MESA; 30°–40°N, 35°–65°E) region in a recent (1999–2022) compared to a prior (1951–98) period. The recent compound extremes were related to conflict, disease transmission, and water shortages in this already semiarid region. Observed estimates and four transient climate model ensembles are used to identify the effect of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and atmospheric forcing by greenhouse gases and aerosols on these compound extremes in autumn (September–November), winter (December–February), spring (March–May), and summer (June–August) that may lead to practical forecast skill for future compound events. Observations and climate models indicate that MESA compound drought and heat in the autumn, winter, and spring wet seasons for the recent period were related to the La Niña phase of ENSO and an attendant northward shift of the storm track that hinders precipitation-bearing storms from moving through MESA. A comparison of different conditions in the model simulations is used to isolate the effects of La Niña and the atmospheric forcing by greenhouse gases and aerosols on compound MESA drought and heat. A comparison of recent and prior periods in the climate models, which isolates the effects of the atmospheric forcing, indicates that greenhouse gases and aerosols are related to the increases in MESA heat frequency in all seasons. A comparison of La Niña to ENSO neutral and El Niño in the recent period of the climate models indicates that La Niña is related to increases in MESA drought frequency in the wet seasons.

Significance Statement

Compound drought and heat pose serious threats to the Middle East and Southwest Asia (MESA) where political and socioeconomic challenges leave its people vulnerable to climate extremes. In this region, frequent seasonal compound drought and heat in a recent (1999–2022) compared to a prior (1951–98) period were related to conflict and water shortages. Physical factors related to these compound extremes in the recent period over MESA were identified, potentially rendering future occurrences predictable. La Niña and atmospheric forcing by greenhouse gases and aerosols contributed to the compound extremes, with the former related to anomalously low precipitation in the September–November, December–February, and March–May wet seasons and the latter related to anomalous high temperatures in all seasons, including June–August.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Andrew Hoell, andrew.hoell@noaa.gov

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