Five Decades of Observed Daily Precipitation Reveal Longer and More Variable Drought Events Across Much of the Western United States

Fangyue Zhang, Joel A. Biederman, Matthew P. Dannenberg, Dong Yan, Sasha C. Reed, William K. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

Multiple lines of evidence suggest climate change will result in increased precipitation variability and consequently more frequent extreme events. These hydroclimatic changes will likely have significant socioecological impacts, especially across water-limited regions. Here we present an analysis of daily meteorological observations from 1976 to 2019 at 337 long-term weather stations distributed across the western United States (US). In addition to widespread warming (0.2 °C ± 0.01°C/decade, daily maximum temperature), we observed trends of reduced annual precipitation (−2.3 ± 1.5 mm/decade) across most of the region, with increasing interannual variability of precipitation. Critically, daily observations showed that extreme-duration drought became more common, with increases in both the mean and longest dry interval between precipitation events (0.6 ± 0.2, 2.4 ± 0.3 days/decade) and greater interannual variability in these dry intervals. These findings indicate that, against a backdrop of warming and drying, large regions of the western US are experiencing intensification of precipitation variability, with likely detrimental consequences for essential ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020GL092293
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Volume48
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 16 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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