Running Dry: The U.S. Southwest’s Drift into a Drier Climate State

Geophysical Research Letters (Feb. 4, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/2015GL066727) / by Andreas F. Prein, et al.

Changes in precipitation have far-reaching consequences on human society and ecosystems as has been demonstrated by recent severe droughts in California and the Oklahoma region. Droughts are beside tropical cyclones the most costly weather and climate related extreme events in the U.S. We apply a weather type (WT) analysis to reanalysis data from 1979–2014 that characterize typical weather conditions over the contiguous United States. This enables us to assign precipitation trends within 1980–2010 to changes in WT frequencies and changes in precipitation intensities. We show that in the North Atlantic and Midwest region precipitation intensity changes are the major driver of increasing precipitation trends. In the U.S. Southwest, however, WT frequency changes lead to a significant precipitation decrease of up to −25% related to an increase in anticyclonic conditions in the North East Pacific. This trend is partly counteracted by increasing precipitation intensities.


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