Instrumental Palmer Drought Severity Indexes (PDSI) averaged over the western United States and Great Plains document three major decadal moisture regimes during the twentieth century: the early twentieth-century pluvial, the Dust Bowl drought, and the 1950s drought. Tree-ring reconstructed PDSI for the contiguous Unites States replicates these three twentieth-century moisture regimes, and have been used to search for possible analogs over the past 500 yr. The early twentieth-century wet regime from 1905 to 1917 appears to have been the wettest episode across the West since A.D.1 500, but similar pluvials occurred in the nineteenth, seventeenth, and sixteenth centuries. The Dust Bowl drought (1929–40) was most severe over the northern Plains to the northern Rockies. No close analogs are found for the full severity and geographical focus of the Dust Bowl drought over the past 500 yr. The 1950s drought (1946–56) was concentrated over the Southwest and was replicated by some 12 droughts of similar spatial coverage and duration over the past 500 yr. One of these analogs, the sixteenth-century mega-drought, was also focused over the Southwest and appears to have surpassed the Dust Bowl drought in coverage, duration, and severity.

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Footnotes

*Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Contribution Number 6476

Environmental Dynamics, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Tree-Ring Laboratory, Department of Geosciences, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Tree-Ring Laboratory, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New York