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Drought Variability and Trends over the Central United States in the Instrumental Record

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  • 1 NOAA/NWS/NCEP/Climate Prediction Center, College Park, Maryland
  • | 2 Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

We examined drought variability and trends over the last century (1916–2013) over the conterminous United States (CONUS) using observed precipitation P, temperature T, and reconstructed total moisture percentiles (TMP) and runoff from four land surface models. We used an integrated drought index (IDI), which we defined as the equally weighted mean of the 3-month standardized runoff index (SRI3) and TMP from four land surface models mapped onto a uniform probability distribution. Using a definition of drought as IDI less than 0.3 for 6 months or longer, we identified 16 drought events, which we termed great droughts that covered more than 50% of the CONUS during our study period. We examined the properties of great droughts and compared these with the 2012 event. The great droughts were located at least partially over the central United States (30°–42°N, 85°–110°W). We found that 12 of these great droughts occurred when cold sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) were located in the tropical Pacific with warm SSTAs in the North Atlantic. We also found a predominance of decreasing trends in IDI; droughts occurred less often and events were less severe as time progressed. In particular, only 2 of the 16 great droughts (2012 and 1988) occurred in the second half of the record.

© 2018 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: Dr. Dennis P. Lettenmaier, dlettenm@ucla.edu

Abstract

We examined drought variability and trends over the last century (1916–2013) over the conterminous United States (CONUS) using observed precipitation P, temperature T, and reconstructed total moisture percentiles (TMP) and runoff from four land surface models. We used an integrated drought index (IDI), which we defined as the equally weighted mean of the 3-month standardized runoff index (SRI3) and TMP from four land surface models mapped onto a uniform probability distribution. Using a definition of drought as IDI less than 0.3 for 6 months or longer, we identified 16 drought events, which we termed great droughts that covered more than 50% of the CONUS during our study period. We examined the properties of great droughts and compared these with the 2012 event. The great droughts were located at least partially over the central United States (30°–42°N, 85°–110°W). We found that 12 of these great droughts occurred when cold sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) were located in the tropical Pacific with warm SSTAs in the North Atlantic. We also found a predominance of decreasing trends in IDI; droughts occurred less often and events were less severe as time progressed. In particular, only 2 of the 16 great droughts (2012 and 1988) occurred in the second half of the record.

© 2018 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: Dr. Dennis P. Lettenmaier, dlettenm@ucla.edu
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