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Vimal Mishra, Keith A. Cherkauer, and Shraddhanand Shukla

Abstract

Understanding the occurrence and variability of drought events in historic and projected future climate is essential to managing natural resources and setting policy. The Midwest region is a key contributor in corn and soybean production, and the occurrence of droughts may affect both quantity and quality of these crops. Soil moisture observations play an essential role in understanding the severity and persistence of drought. Considering the scarcity of the long-term soil moisture datasets, soil moisture observations in Illinois have been one of the best datasets for studies of soil moisture. In the present study, the authors use the existing observational dataset and then reconstruct long-term historic time series (1916–2007) of soil moisture data using a land surface model to study the effects of historic climate variability and projected future climate change on regional-scale (Illinois and Indiana) drought. The objectives of this study are to (i) estimate changes and trends associated with climate variables in historic climate variability (1916–2007) and in projected future climate change (2009–99) and (ii) identify regional-scale droughts and associated severity, areal extent, and temporal extent under historic and projected future climate using reconstructed soil moisture data and gridded climatology for the period 1916–2007 using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model. The authors reconstructed the soil moisture for a long-term (1916–2007) historic time series using the VIC model, which was calibrated for monthly streamflow and soil moisture at eight U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gauge stations and Illinois Climate Network’s (ICN) soil moisture stations, respectively, and then it was evaluated for soil moisture, persistence of soil moisture, and soil temperature and heat fluxes. After calibration and evaluation, the VIC model was implemented for historic (1916–2007) and projected future climate (2009–99) periods across the study domain. The nonparametric Mann–Kendall test was used to estimate trends using the gridded climatology of precipitation and air temperature variables. Trends were also estimated for annual anomalies of soil moisture variables, snow water equivalent, and total runoff using a long-term time series of the historic period. Results indicate that precipitation, minimum air temperature, total column soil moisture, and runoff have experienced upward trends, whereas maximum air temperature, frozen soil moisture, and snow water equivalent experienced downward trends. Furthermore, the decreasing trends were significant for the frozen soil moisture in the study domain. The results demonstrate that retrospective drought periods and their severity were reconstructed using model-simulated data. Results also indicate that the study region is experiencing reduced extreme and exceptional droughts with lesser areal extent in recent decades.

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Chris Funk, Shraddhanand Shukla, Andy Hoell, and Ben Livneh
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Emily Williams, Chris Funk, Shraddhanand Shukla, and Daniel McEvoy
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Shraddhanand Shukla, Anne Steinemann, Sam F. Iacobellis, and Daniel R. Cayan

Abstract

Annual precipitation in California is more variable than in any other state and is highly influenced by precipitation in winter months. A primary question among stakeholders is whether low precipitation in certain months is a harbinger of annual drought in California. Historical precipitation data from 1895 to 2013 are investigated to identify leading monthly indicators of annual drought in each of the seven climate divisions (CDs) as well as statewide. For this study, drought conditions are defined as monthly/annual (October–September) precipitation below the 20th/30th percentile, and a leading indicator is defined as a monthly drought preceding or during an annual drought that has the strongest association (i.e., joint probability of occurrence) with a statewide annual drought. Monthly precipitation variability and contributions to annual precipitation, along with joint probabilities of drought among the winter months, are first analyzed. Then the probabilities of annual drought and the variability in leading indicators are analyzed according to different climate phases and CDs. This study identified December within a water year as being the leading indicator that is most frequently associated with annual drought statewide (56%) and in most of the CDs (the highest was CD2 at 65%). Associated with its leading-indicator status, December drought was most frequently associated with drought in other winter months (joint probability > 30%). Results from this study can help stakeholders to understand and assess the likelihood of annual drought events given monthly precipitation preceding or early in the water year.

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Andrew Hoell, Andrea E. Gaughan, Shraddhanand Shukla, and Tamuka Magadzire

Abstract

Southern Africa precipitation during December–March (DJFM), the height of the rainy season, is closely related with two modes of climate variability, El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the subtropical Indian Ocean dipole (SIOD). Recent research has found that the combined effects of ENSO and SIOD phasing are linked with changes to the regional southern Africa atmospheric circulation beyond the individual effects of either ENSO or SIOD alone. Here, the authors extend the recent research and examine the southern Africa land surface hydrology associated with the synchronous effects of ENSO and SIOD events using a macroscale hydrologic model, with particular emphasis on the evolution of the hydrologic conditions over three critical Transfrontier Conservation Areas: the Kavango–Zambezi Conservation Area, the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. A better understanding of the climatic effects of ENSO and SIOD phase combinations is important for regional-scale transboundary conservation planning, especially for southern Africa, where both humans and wildlife are dependent on the timing and amount of precipitation. Opposing ENSO and SIOD phase combinations (e.g., El Niño and a negative SIOD or La Niña and a positive SIOD) result in strong southern Africa climate impacts during DJFM. The strong instantaneous regional precipitation and near-surface air temperature anomalies during opposing ENSO and SIOD phase combinations lead to significant soil moisture and evapotranspiration anomalies in the year following the ENSO event. By contrast, when ENSO and SIOD are in the same phase (e.g., El Niño and a positive SIOD or La Niña and a negative SIOD), the southern Africa climate impacts during DJFM are minimal.

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Shraddhanand Shukla, Anne C. Steinemann, and Dennis P. Lettenmaier

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A drought monitoring system (DMS) can help to detect and characterize drought conditions and reduce adverse drought impacts. The authors evaluate how a DMS for Washington State, based on a land surface model (LSM), would perform. The LSM represents current soil moisture (SM), snow water equivalent (SWE), and runoff over the state. The DMS incorporates the standardized precipitation index (SPI), standardized runoff index (SRI), and soil moisture percentile (SMP) taken from the LSM. Four historical drought events (1976–77, 1987–89, 2000–01, and 2004–05) are constructed using DMS indicators of SPI/SRI-3, SPI/SRI-6, SPI/SRI-12, SPI/SRI-24, SPI/SRI-36, and SMP, with monthly updates, in each of the state’s 62 Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs). The authors also compare drought triggers based on DMS indicators with the evolution of drought conditions and management decisions during the four droughts. The results show that the DMS would have detected the onset and recovery of drought conditions, in many cases, up to four months before state declarations.

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Shraddhanand Shukla, Daniel McEvoy, Mike Hobbins, Greg Husak, Justin Huntington, Chris Funk, Denis Macharia, and James Verdin

Abstract

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) team provides food insecurity outlooks for several developing countries in Africa, central Asia, and Central America. This study describes development of a new global reference evapotranspiration (ET0) seasonal reforecast and skill evaluation with a particular emphasis on the potential use of this dataset by FEWS NET to support food insecurity early warning. The ET0 reforecasts span the 1982–2009 period and are calculated following the American Society for Civil Engineers formulation of the Penman–Monteith method driven by seasonal climate forecasts of monthly mean temperature, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction CFSv2 model and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration GEOS-5 model. The skill evaluation, using deterministic and probabilistic scores, focuses on the December–February (DJF), March–May (MAM), June–August (JJA), and September–November seasons. The results indicate that ET0 forecasts are a promising tool for early warning of drought and food insecurity. Globally, the regions where forecasts are most skillful (correlation > 0.35 at leads of 2 months) include the western United States, northern parts of South America, parts of the Sahel region, and southern Africa. The FEWS NET regions where forecasts are most skillful (correlation > 0.35 at lead 3) include northern sub-Saharan Africa (DJF; dry season), Central America (DJF; dry season), parts of East Africa (JJA; wet season), southern Africa (JJA; dry season), and central Asia (MAM; wet season). A case study over parts of East Africa for the JJA season shows that ET0 forecasts in combination with the precipitation forecasts would have provided early warning of recent severe drought events (e.g., in 2002, 2004, 2009) that contributed to substantial food insecurity in the region.

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Qian Cao, Shraddhanand Shukla, Michael J. DeFlorio, F. Martin Ralph, and Dennis P. Lettenmaier

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Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are responsible for up to 90% of major flood events along the U.S. West Coast. The time scale of subseasonal forecasting (from 2 weeks to 1 month) is a critical lead time for proactive mitigation of flood disasters. The NOAA Climate Testbed Subseasonal Experiment (SubX) is a research-to-operations project with almost immediate availability of forecasts. It has produced a reforecast database that facilitates evaluation of flood forecasts at these subseasonal lead times. Here, we examine the SubX-driven forecast skill of AR-related flooding out to 4-week lead using the Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model (DHSVM), with particular attention to the role of antecedent soil moisture (ASM), which modulates the relationship between meteorological and hydrological forecast skill. We study three watersheds along a transect of the U.S. West Coast: the Chehalis River basin in Washington, the Russian River basin in Northern California, and the Santa Margarita River basin in Southern California. We find that the SubX-driven flood forecast skill drops quickly after week 1, during which there is relatively high deterministic forecast skill. We find some probabilistic forecast skill relative to climatology as well as ensemble streamflow prediction (ESP) in week 2, but minimal skill in weeks 3–4, especially for annual maximum floods, notwithstanding some probabilistic skill for smaller floods in week 3. Using ESP and reverse-ESP experiments to consider the relative influence of ASM and SubX reforecast skill, we find that ASM dominates probabilistic forecast skill only for small flood events at week 1, while SubX reforecast skill dominates for large flood events at all lead times.

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Kingtse C. Mo, Li-Chuan Chen, Shraddhanand Shukla, Theodore J. Bohn, and Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Abstract

The Environmental Modeling Center (EMC) at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) and the University of Washington (UW) run parallel drought monitoring systems over the continental United States based on the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS). The NCEP system uses four land surface models (LSMs): Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC), Noah, Mosaic, and Sacramento (SAC). The UW system uses VIC, SAC, Noah, and the Community Land Model (CLM). An assessment of differences in drought characteristics using both systems for the period 1979–2008 was performed. For soil moisture (SM) percentiles and runoff indices, differences are relatively small among different LSMs in the same system. However, the ensemble mean differences between the two systems are large over the western United States—in some cases exceeding 20% for SM and runoff percentile differences. These differences are most apparent after 2002 when the NCEP system transitioned to use the real-time North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) and its precipitation gauge station data. (The UW system went into real-time operation in 2005.) Experiments were performed to address the sources of uncertainties. Comparison of simulations using the two systems with different model forcings indicates that the precipitation forcing differences are the primary source of the SM and runoff differences. While temperature, shortwave and longwave radiation, and wind speed forcing differences are also large after 2002, their contributions to SM and runoff differences are much smaller than precipitation.

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Andrew Hoell, Shraddhanand Shukla, Mathew Barlow, Forest Cannon, Colin Kelley, and Chris Funk

Abstract

Southwest Asia, defined as the region containing the countries of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan, is water scarce and receives nearly 75% of its annual rainfall during the boreal cold season of November–April. The forcing of southwest Asia precipitation has been previously examined for the entire boreal cold season from the perspective of climate variability originating over the Atlantic and tropical Indo-Pacific Oceans. This study examines the intermonthly differences in precipitation variability over southwest Asia and the atmospheric conditions directly responsible in forcing monthly November–April precipitation.

Seasonally averaged November–April precipitation over southwest Asia is significantly correlated with sea surface temperature (SST) patterns consistent with Pacific decadal variability (PDV), El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and the long-term change of global SST (LT). In contrast, the precipitation variability during the individual months of November–April is unrelated and is correlated with SST signatures that include PDV, ENSO, and LT in different combinations.

Despite strong intermonthly differences in precipitation variability during November–April over southwest Asia, similar atmospheric circulations, highlighted by a stationary equivalent barotropic Rossby wave centered over Iraq, force the monthly spatial distributions of precipitation. Tropospheric flow on the eastern side of the equivalent barotropic Rossby wave modifies the flux of moisture and advects the mean meridional temperature gradient, resulting in temperature advection that is balanced by vertical motions over southwest Asia. The forcing of monthly southwest Asia precipitation by equivalent barotropic Rossby waves is different from the forcing by baroclinic Rossby waves associated with tropically forced–only modes of climate variability.

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