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Klaus Wolter, Jon K. Eischeid, Linyin Cheng, and Martin Hoerling
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Linyin Cheng, Martin Hoerling, Zhiyong Liu, and Jon Eischeid

Abstract

Although the link between droughts and heat waves is widely recognized, how climate change affects this link remains uncertain. Here we assess how, and by how much, human-induced climate change affects summertime hot drought compound events over the contiguous United States. Results are derived by comparing hot drought statistics in long simulations of a coupled climate model (CESM1) subjected to year-1850 and year-2000 radiative forcings. Within each climate state, a strong and nonlinear dependency of heat-wave intensity on drought severity is found in water-limited regions of the southern Great Plains and southwestern United States whereas heat-wave intensity is found to be insensitive to drought severity in energy-limited regions of the northern and/or northeastern United States. Applying a statistical model that is based on pair-copula constructions, we find that anthropogenic warming leads to enhanced soil moisture–temperature coupling in water-limited areas of the southern Great Plains and/or southwestern United States and consequently amplifies the intensity of extreme heat waves during severe droughts. This strengthened coupling accounts for a substantial fraction of rising temperature extremes related to the long-term climate change in CESM1, highlighting the importance of changes in land–atmosphere feedback in a warmer climate. In contrast, coupling effects remain weak and largely unchanged in energy-limited regions, thereby yielding no appreciable contribution to heat-wave intensification over the northern and/or northeastern United States apart from the long-term warming effects.

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Linyin Cheng, Martin Hoerling, Lesley Smith, and Jon Eischeid

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Factors responsible for extreme monthly rainfall over Texas and Oklahoma during May 2015 are assessed. The event had a return period of at least 400 years, in contrast to the prior record, which was roughly a 100-yr event. The event challenges attribution science to disentangle factors because it occurred during a strong El Niño, a natural pattern of variability that affects the region’s springtime rains, and during the warmest global mean temperatures since 1880. Effects of each factor are diagnosed, as is the interplay between El Niño dynamics and human-induced climate change.

Analysis of historical climate simulations reveals that El Niño was a necessary condition for monthly rains to occur having the severity of May 2015. The model results herein further reveal that a 2015 magnitude event, whether conditioned on El Niño or not, was made neither more intense nor more likely to be due to human-induced climate change over the past century.

The intensity of extreme May rainfall over Texas and Oklahoma , analogous to the 2015 event, increases by roughly 5% by the latter half of the twenty-first century. No material changes occur in either El Niño–related teleconnections or in overall atmospheric dynamics during extreme May rainfall over the twenty-first century. The increased severity of Texas/Oklahoma May rainfall events in the future is principally due to thermodynamic driving, although much less than implied by simple Clausius–Clapeyron scaling arguments given a projected 23% increase in atmospheric precipitable water vapor. Other thermodynamic factors are identified that act in opposition to the increase in atmospheric water vapor, thereby reducing the effectiveness of overall thermodynamic driving of extreme May rainfall changes over Texas and Oklahoma.

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Martin Hoerling, Jon Eischeid, Judith Perlwitz, Xiao-Wei Quan, Klaus Wolter, and Linyin Cheng

Abstract

Time series of U.S. daily heavy precipitation (95th percentile) are analyzed to determine factors responsible for regionality and seasonality in their 1979–2013 trends. For annual conditions, contiguous U.S. trends have been characterized by increases in precipitation associated with heavy daily events across the northern United States and decreases across the southern United States. Diagnosis of climate simulations (CCSM4 and CAM4) reveals that the evolution of observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) was a more important factor influencing these trends than boundary condition changes linked to external radiative forcing alone. Since 1979, the latter induces widespread, but mostly weak, increases in precipitation associated with heavy daily events. The former induces a meridional pattern of northern U.S. increases and southern U.S. decreases as observed, the magnitude of which closely aligns with observed changes, especially over the south and far west. Analysis of model ensemble spread reveals that appreciable 35-yr trends in heavy daily precipitation can occur in the absence of forcing, thereby limiting detection of the weak anthropogenic influence at regional scales.

Analysis of the seasonality in heavy daily precipitation trends supports physical arguments that their changes during 1979–2013 have been intimately linked to internal decadal ocean variability and less so to human-induced climate change. Most of the southern U.S. decrease has occurred during the cold season that has been dynamically driven by an atmospheric circulation reminiscent of teleconnections linked to cold tropical eastern Pacific SSTs. Most of the northeastern U.S. increase has been a warm season phenomenon, the immediate cause for which remains unresolved.

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Matthew Newman, Andrew T. Wittenberg, Linyin Cheng, Gilbert P. Compo, and Catherine A. Smith
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Linyin Cheng, Martin Hoerling, Amir AghaKouchak, Ben Livneh, Xiao-Wei Quan, and Jon Eischeid

Abstract

The current California drought has cast a heavy burden on statewide agriculture and water resources, further exacerbated by concurrent extreme high temperatures. Furthermore, industrial-era global radiative forcing brings into question the role of long-term climate change with regard to California drought. How has human-induced climate change affected California drought risk? Here, observations and model experimentation are applied to characterize this drought employing metrics that synthesize drought duration, cumulative precipitation deficit, and soil moisture depletion. The model simulations show that increases in radiative forcing since the late nineteenth century induce both increased annual precipitation and increased surface temperature over California, consistent with prior model studies and with observed long-term change. As a result, there is no material difference in the frequency of droughts defined using bivariate indicators of precipitation and near-surface (10 cm) soil moisture, because shallow soil moisture responds most sensitively to increased evaporation driven by warming, which compensates the increase in the precipitation. However, when using soil moisture within a deep root zone layer (1 m) as covariate, droughts become less frequent because deep soil moisture responds most sensitively to increased precipitation. The results illustrate the different land surface responses to anthropogenic forcing that are relevant for near-surface moisture exchange and for root zone moisture availability. The latter is especially relevant for agricultural impacts as the deep layer dictates moisture availability for plants, trees, and many crops. The results thus indicate that the net effect of climate change has made agricultural drought less likely and that the current severe impacts of drought on California’s agriculture have not been substantially caused by long-term climate changes.

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Tao Zhang, Martin P. Hoerling, Klaus Wolter, Jon Eischeid, Linyin Cheng, Andrew Hoell, Judith Perlwitz, Xiao-Wei Quan, and Joseph Barsugli

Abstract

The failed Southern California (SCAL) winter rains during the 2015/16 strong El Niño came as a surprise and a disappointment. Similarities were drawn to very wet winters during several historical strong El Niño events, leading to heightened expectations that SCAL’s multiyear drought would abate in 2016. Ensembles of atmospheric model simulations and coupled model seasonal forecasts are diagnosed to determine both the potential predictability and actual prediction skill of the failed rains, with a focus on understanding the striking contrast of SCAL precipitation between the 2016 and 1998 strong El Niño events. The ensemble mean of simulations indicates that the December–February 2016 winter dryness was not a response to global boundary forcings, which instead generated a wet SCAL signal. Nor was the extreme magnitude of observed 1998 wetness entirely reconcilable with a boundary-forced signal, indicating it was not a particularly precise analog for 2016. Furthermore, model simulations indicate the SCAL 2016 wet signal was 20%–50% less intense than its simulated 1998 counterpart. Such a weaker signal was captured in November 2015 initialized seasonal forecasts, indicating dynamical model skill in predicting a less prolific 2016 rainy season and a capability to forewarn that 2016 would not likely experience the flooding rains of 1998. Analysis of ensemble spread indicates that 2016 dryness was an extreme climate event having less than 5% likelihood in the presence of 2016 global forcings, even though its probability of occurrence was 3–4 times greater in 2016 compared to 1998. Therefore, the failed seasonal rains themselves are argued to be primarily a symptom of subseasonal variability unrelated to boundary forcings whose predictability remains to be explored.

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