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Y. C. Sud, D. M. Mocko, K-M. Lau, and R. Atlas


Past studies have suggested that the drought of the summer of 1988 over the midwestern United States may have been caused by sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies, an evolving stationary circulation, a soil-moisture feedback on circulation and rainfall, or even by remote forcings. The relative importance of various contributing factors is investigated in this paper through the use of Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) GCM simulations. Seven different experiments, each containing an ensemble of four simulations, were conducted with the GCM. For each experiment, the GCM was integrated through the summers of 1987 and 1988 starting from an analyzed atmosphere in early January of each year. In the baseline case, only the SST anomalies and climatological vegetation parameters were prescribed, while everything else (such as soil moisture, snow cover, and clouds) was interactive. The precipitation differences (1988 minus 1987) show that the GCM was successful in simulating reduced precipitation in 1988, but the accompanying low-level circulation anomalies in the Midwest were not well simulated. To isolate the influence of the model’s climate drift, analyzed winds and analyzed soil moisture were prescribed globally as continuous updates (in isolation or jointly). The results show that remotely advected wind biases (emanating from potential errors in the model’s dynamics and physics) are the primary cause of circulation biases over North America. Inclusion of soil moisture helps to improve the simulation as well as to reaffirm the strong feedback between soil moisture and precipitation. In a case with both updated winds and soil moisture, the model produces more realistic evapotranspiration and precipitation differences. An additional case also used soil moisture and winds updates, but only outside North America. Its simulation is very similar to that of the case with globally updated winds and soil moisture, which suggests that North American simulation errors originate largely outside the region. Two additional cases examining the influence of vegetation were built on this case using correct and opposite-year vegetation. The model did not produce a discernible improvement in response to vegetation for the drought year. One may conclude that the soil moisture governs the outcome of the land–atmosphere feedback interaction far more than the vegetation parameters. A primary inference of this study is that even though SSTs have some influence on the drought, model biases strongly influence the prediction errors. It must be emphasized that the results from this study are dependent upon the GEOS model’s identified errors and biases, and that the conclusions do not necessarily apply to results from other models.

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