Increasing influence of air temperature on upper Colorado River streamflow

Connie A. Woodhouse, Gregory T. Pederson, Kiyomi Morino, Stephanie A. McAfee, Gregory J. McCabe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


This empirical study examines the influence of precipitation, temperature, and antecedent soil moisture on upper Colorado River basin (UCRB) water year streamflow over the past century. While cool season precipitation explains most of the variability in annual flows, temperature appears to be highly influential under certain conditions, with the role of antecedent fall soil moisture less clear. In both wet and dry years, when flow is substantially different than expected given precipitation, these factors can modulate the dominant precipitation influence on streamflow. Different combinations of temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture can result in flow deficits of similar magnitude, but recent droughts have been amplified by warmer temperatures that exacerbate the effects of relatively modest precipitation deficits. Since 1988, a marked increase in the frequency of warm years with lower flows than expected, given precipitation, suggests continued warming temperatures will be an increasingly important influence in reducing future UCRB water supplies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2174-2181
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 16 2016


  • Colorado River Basin
  • soil moisture
  • warming temperatures
  • water year streamflow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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