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Anthony M. DeAngelis, Hailan Wang, Randal D. Koster, Siegfried D. Schubert, Yehui Chang, and Jelena Marshak

Abstract

Rapid-onset droughts, known as flash droughts, can have devastating impacts on agriculture, water resources, and ecosystems. The ability to predict flash droughts in advance would greatly enhance our preparation for them and potentially mitigate their impacts. Here, we investigate the prediction skill of the extreme 2012 flash drought over the U.S. Great Plains at subseasonal lead times (3 weeks or more in advance) in global forecast systems participating in the Subseasonal Experiment (SubX). An additional comprehensive set of subseasonal hindcasts with NASA’s GEOS model, a SubX model with relatively high prediction skill, was performed to investigate the separate contributions of atmospheric and land initial conditions to flash drought prediction skill. The results show that the prediction skill of the SubX models is quite variable. While skillful predictions are restricted to within the first two forecast weeks in most models, skill is considerably better (3–4 weeks or more) for certain models and initialization dates. The enhanced prediction skill is found to originate from two robust sources: 1) accurate soil moisture initialization once dry soil conditions are established, and 2) the satisfactory representation of quasi-stationary cross-Pacific Rossby wave trains that lead to the rapid intensification of flash droughts. Evidence is provided that the importance of soil moisture initialization applies more generally to central U.S. summer flash droughts. Our results corroborate earlier findings that accurate soil moisture initialization is important for skillful subseasonal forecasts and highlight the need for additional research on the sources and predictability of drought-inducing quasi-stationary atmospheric circulation anomalies.

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