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Charles W. Stockton
and
David M. Meko

Abstract

Recently collected tree-ring data were used to reconstruct drought from 1700 to the present in four regionsflanking the Great Plains. Regions were centered in Iowa, Oklahoma, eastern Montana and eastern Wyoming.Reconstructions derived by multiple linear regression explained from 44 to 56% of the variance in regionallyaveraged annual precipitation from 1933 to 1977. Years of widespread severe drought clustered into droughtepochs lasting 5-10 years. A weighted mean of the four regional reconstructions pointed out the severity ofthe 1930's drought; the years 1934, 1936 and 1939 ranked among the driest 10 of 278 years. When droughtconditions were averaged over periods of three or more years, the 1930's drought was equaled or surpassedin severity by droughts in the 1750's, 1820's and 1860's. Spectral analysis of the 1700-1977 reconstructionindicated that precipitation averaged over the four regions had a penodicity of 16-19 years, but reconstructions for the individual regions deviated considerably from this result. The Iowa region was dominated bya 22-year periodicity, the Oklahoma region by a 17-23 year periodicity, and the other two regions by arelatively strong 60-year penodicity. Separate analysis of 88-year subperiods of reconstructions indicated thatevidence for a 22-year periodicity was strongest in the most recent period (1890-1977), weaker for 1802-89and lacking entirely from 1714 to 1801.

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David M. Meko
and
Charles W. Stockton

Abstract

Long-term streamflow series in the western United States were examined for evidence of secular changes related to climate. Streamflow series contained appreciable low-frequency variation related to the combined influence of temperature and precipitation. Evidence of nonstationarity was found in selected records for the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Colorado Basins: mean annual streamflow increased significantly (0.05 level) from the first to last half of the 1914–80 period in the Pacific Northwest, and decreased significantly over the same period in the Upper Colorado region. Correlation analyses and examination of drought years revealed a strong tendency for anomalies of opposite sign in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest. Drought in the Upper Colorado Basin was statistically independent of drought in the Pacific Northwest. Under exceptional meteorological conditions (e.g., water-year 1976–77), however, low flows occurred over a vast area from the Northwest coast to the mountains of central Arizona.

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Edward R. Cook
,
David M. Meko
, and
Charles W. Stockton

Abstract

A new drought area index (DAI) for the United States has been developed based on a high-quality network of drought reconstructions from tree rings. This DAI is remarkably similar to one developed earlier based on much less data and shows strong evidence for a persistent bidecadal drought rhythm in the western United States since 1700. This rhythm has in the past been associated with possible forcing by the 22-yr Hale solar magnetic cycle and the 18.6-yr lunar nodal tidal cycle. The authors make a new assessment of these possible forcings on DAI using different methods of analysis. In so doing, they confirm most of the previous findings. In particular, there is a reasonably strong statistical association between the bidecadal drought area rhythm and years of Hale solar cycle minima and 18.6-yr lunar tidal maxima. The authors also show that the putative solar and lunar effects appear to be interacting to modulate the drought area rhythm, especially since 1800. These results do not eliminate the possibility that the drought area rhythm is, in fact, internally forced by coupled ocean–atmosphere processes. Recent modeling results suggest that unstable ocean–atmosphere interactions in the North Pacific could be responsible for the drought rhythm as well. However, the results presented here do not easily allow for the rejection of the solar and lunar forcing hypotheses either.

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Edward R. Cook
,
David M. Meko
,
David W. Stahle
, and
Malcolm K. Cleaveland

Abstract

The development of a 2° lat × 3° long grid of summer drought reconstructions for the continental United States estimated from a dense network of annual tree-ring chronologies is described. The drought metric used is the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). The number of grid points is 154 and the reconstructions cover the common period 1700–1978. In producing this grid, an automated gridpoint regression method called “point-by-point regression” was developed and tested. In so doing, a near-optimal global solution was found for its implementation. The reconstructions have been thoroughly tested for validity using PDSI data not used in regression modeling. In general, most of the gridpoint estimates of drought pass the verification tests used. In addition, the spatial features of drought in the United States have been faithfully recorded in the reconstructions even though the method of reconstruction is not explicitly spatial in its design.

The drought reconstructions show that the 1930s “Dust Bowl” drought was the most severe such event to strike the United States since 1700. Other more local droughts are also revealed in the regional patterns of drought obtained by rotated principal component analysis. These reconstructions are located on a NOAA Web site at the World Data Center-A in Boulder, Colorado, and can be freely downloaded from there.

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Toby R. Ault
,
Julia E. Cole
,
Jonathan T. Overpeck
,
Gregory T. Pederson
, and
David M. Meko

Abstract

Projected changes in global rainfall patterns will likely alter water supplies and ecosystems in semiarid regions during the coming century. Instrumental and paleoclimate data indicate that natural hydroclimate fluctuations tend to be more energetic at low (multidecadal to multicentury) than at high (interannual) frequencies. State-of-the-art global climate models do not capture this characteristic of hydroclimate variability, suggesting that the models underestimate the risk of future persistent droughts. Methods are developed here for assessing the risk of such events in the coming century using climate model projections as well as observational (paleoclimate) information. Where instrumental and paleoclimate data are reliable, these methods may provide a more complete view of prolonged drought risk. In the U.S. Southwest, for instance, state-of-the-art climate model projections suggest the risk of a decade-scale megadrought in the coming century is less than 50%; the analysis herein suggests that the risk is at least 80%, and may be higher than 90% in certain areas. The likelihood of longer-lived events (>35 yr) is between 20% and 50%, and the risk of an unprecedented 50-yr megadrought is nonnegligible under the most severe warming scenario (5%–10%). These findings are important to consider as adaptation and mitigation strategies are developed to cope with regional impacts of climate change, where population growth is high and multidecadal megadrought—worse than anything seen during the last 2000 years—would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region.

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Michael D. Dettinger
,
Daniel R. Cayan
,
Henry F. Diaz
, and
David M. Meko

Abstract

The overall amount of precipitation deposited along the West Coast and western cordillera of North America from 25° to 55°N varies from year to year, and superimposed on this domain-average variability are varying north–south contrasts on timescales from at least interannual to interdecadal. In order to better understand the north–south precipitation contrasts, their interannual and decadal variations are studied in terms of how much they affect overall precipitation amounts and how they are related to large-scale climatic patterns. Spatial empirical orthogonal functions (EOFs) and spatial moments (domain average, central latitude, and latitudinal spread) of zonally averaged precipitation anomalies along the westernmost parts of North America are analyzed, and each is correlated with global sea level pressure (SLP) and sea surface temperature series, on interannual (defined here as 3–7 yr) and decadal (>7 yr) timescales. The interannual band considered here corresponds to timescales that are particularly strong in tropical climate variations and thus is expected to contain much precipitation variability that is related to El Niño–Southern Oscillation; the decadal scale is defined so as to capture the whole range of long-term climatic variations affecting western North America.

Zonal EOFs of the interannual and decadal filtered versions of the zonal-precipitation series are remarkably similar. At both timescales, two leading EOFs describe 1) a north–south seesaw of precipitation pivoting near 40°N and 2) variations in precipitation near 40°N, respectively. The amount of overall precipitation variability is only about 10% of the mean and is largely determined by precipitation variations around 40°–45°N and most consistently influenced by nearby circulation patterns; in this sense, domain-average precipitation is closely related to the second EOF. The central latitude and latitudinal spread of precipitation distributions are strongly influenced by precipitation variations in the southern parts of western North America and are closely related to the first EOF. Central latitude of precipitation moves south (north) with tropical warming (cooling) in association with midlatitude western Pacific SLP variations, on both interannual and decadal timescales. Regional patterns and zonal averages of precipitation-sensitive tree-ring series are used to corroborate these patterns and to extend them into the past and appear to share much long- and short-term information with the instrumentally based zonal precipitation EOFs and moments.

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Scott St. George
,
David M. Meko
,
Martin-Philippe Girardin
,
Glen M. MacDonald
,
Erik Nielsen
,
Greg T. Pederson
,
David J. Sauchyn
,
Jacques C. Tardif
, and
Emma Watson

Abstract

Ring-width data from 138 sites in the Canadian Prairie Provinces and adjacent regions are used to estimate summer drought severity during the past several hundred years. The network was divided into five regional groups based on geography, tree species, and length of record: the eastern Rockies, northern Saskatchewan, central Manitoba, southern Manitoba, and northwestern Ontario. Regional tree-ring records are primarily related to summer moisture and drought conditions, and are less responsive to droughts caused by deficits in winter precipitation. These summer-sensitive data are not linearly related to major modes of climate variability, including ENSO and the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), which primarily affect the climate of western Canada during winter. Extended drought records inferred from tree rings indicate that drought on the Canadian Prairies has exhibited considerable spatial heterogeneity over the last several centuries. For northern Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario, intervals of persistently low tree growth during the twentieth century were just as long as or longer than low-growth intervals in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Longer records from southern Alberta suggest that the most intense dry spell in that area during the last 500 yr occurred during the 1720s. At the eastern side of the prairies, the longest dry event is centered around 1700 and may coincide with low lake stands in Manitoba, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Although the Canadian Prairies were dry at times during the 1500s, there is no regional analog to the sixteenth-century “megadroughts” that affected much of the western United States and northern Mexico.

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David W. Stahle
,
Edward R. Cook
,
Dorian J. Burnette
,
Max C. A. Torbenson
,
Ian M. Howard
,
Daniel Griffin
,
Jose Villanueva Diaz
,
Benjamin I. Cook
,
A. Park Williams
,
Emma Watson
,
David J. Sauchyn
,
Neil Pederson
,
Connie A. Woodhouse
,
Gregory T. Pederson
,
David Meko
,
Bethany Coulthard
, and
Christopher J. Crawford

Abstract

Cool- and warm-season precipitation totals have been reconstructed on a gridded basis for North America using 439 tree-ring chronologies correlated with December–April totals and 547 different chronologies correlated with May–July totals. These discrete seasonal chronologies are not significantly correlated with the alternate season; the December–April reconstructions are skillful over most of the southern and western United States and north-central Mexico, and the May–July estimates have skill over most of the United States, southwestern Canada, and northeastern Mexico. Both the strong continent-wide El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) signal embedded in the cool-season reconstructions and the Arctic Oscillation signal registered by the warm-season estimates faithfully reproduce the sign, intensity, and spatial patterns of these ocean–atmospheric influences on North American precipitation as recorded with instrumental data. The reconstructions are included in the North American Seasonal Precipitation Atlas (NASPA) and provide insight into decadal droughts and pluvials. They indicate that the sixteenth-century megadrought, the most severe and sustained North American drought of the past 500 years, was the combined result of three distinct seasonal droughts, each bearing unique spatial patterns potentially associated with seasonal forcing from ENSO, the Arctic Oscillation, and the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation. Significant 200–500-yr-long trends toward increased precipitation have been detected in the cool- and warm-season reconstructions for eastern North America. These seasonal precipitation changes appear to be part of the positive moisture trend measured in other paleoclimate proxies for the eastern area that began as a result of natural forcing before the industrial revolution and may have recently been enhanced by anthropogenic climate change.

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