Drought Variability over the Conterminous United States for the Past Century

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  • 1 Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2 Now at School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
  • 3 Science Applications International Corporation, Hydrological Sciences Laboratory, Code 617, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt MD
  • 4 Environmental Modeling Center, NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction, College Park, MD
  • 5 Earth Sciences Division, Code 610.9, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
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Abstract

We examine the drought variability over the Conterminous United States (CONUS) for 1915-2018 using the Noah-MP land-surface model. We examine different model options on drought reconstruction including optional representation of groundwater and dynamic vegetation phenology. Over our 104-year reconstruction period, we identify 12 great droughts that each covered at least 36% of CONUS and lasted for at least 5 months. The great droughts tend to have smaller areas when groundwater and/or dynamic vegetation are included in the model configuration. We detect a small decreasing trend in dry area coverage over CONUS in all configurations. We identify 45 major droughts in the baseline (with a dry area coverage greater than 23.6% of CONUS) that are, on average, somewhat less severe than great droughts. We find that representation of groundwater tends to increase drought duration for both great and major droughts, primarily by leading to earlier drought onset (some due to short-lived recovery from a previous drought) or later demise (groundwater anomalies lag precipitation anomalies). In contrast, representation of dynamic vegetation tends to shorten major droughts duration, primarily due to earlier drought demise ( closed stoma or dead vegetation reduces ET loss during droughts). On a regional basis, the U.S. Southwest (Southeast) has the longest (shortest) major drought durations. Consistent with earlier work, dry area coverage in all subregions except the Southwest has decreased. The effects of groundwater and dynamic vegetation vary regionally due to differences in groundwater depths (hence connectivity with the surface) and vegetation types.

This article is included in the Progress in Advancing Drought Monitoring and Prediction Special Collection.

Corresponding author: Dennis P. Lettenmaier, dlettenm@ucla.edu

Abstract

We examine the drought variability over the Conterminous United States (CONUS) for 1915-2018 using the Noah-MP land-surface model. We examine different model options on drought reconstruction including optional representation of groundwater and dynamic vegetation phenology. Over our 104-year reconstruction period, we identify 12 great droughts that each covered at least 36% of CONUS and lasted for at least 5 months. The great droughts tend to have smaller areas when groundwater and/or dynamic vegetation are included in the model configuration. We detect a small decreasing trend in dry area coverage over CONUS in all configurations. We identify 45 major droughts in the baseline (with a dry area coverage greater than 23.6% of CONUS) that are, on average, somewhat less severe than great droughts. We find that representation of groundwater tends to increase drought duration for both great and major droughts, primarily by leading to earlier drought onset (some due to short-lived recovery from a previous drought) or later demise (groundwater anomalies lag precipitation anomalies). In contrast, representation of dynamic vegetation tends to shorten major droughts duration, primarily due to earlier drought demise ( closed stoma or dead vegetation reduces ET loss during droughts). On a regional basis, the U.S. Southwest (Southeast) has the longest (shortest) major drought durations. Consistent with earlier work, dry area coverage in all subregions except the Southwest has decreased. The effects of groundwater and dynamic vegetation vary regionally due to differences in groundwater depths (hence connectivity with the surface) and vegetation types.

This article is included in the Progress in Advancing Drought Monitoring and Prediction Special Collection.

Corresponding author: Dennis P. Lettenmaier, dlettenm@ucla.edu
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