The turn of the century North American drought: Global context, dynamics, and past analogs

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Journal of Climate
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Nov 15
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The causes and global context of the North American drought between 1998 and 2004 are examined using atmospheric reanalyses and ensembles of atmosphere model simulations variously forced by global SSTs or tropical Pacific SSTs alone. The drought divides into two distinct time intervals. Between 1998 and 2002 it coincided with a persistent La Ni (n) over tildea-like state in the tropical Pacific, a cool tropical troposphere, poleward shifted jet streams, and, in the zonal mean, eddy-driven descent in midlatitudes. During the winters reduced precipitation over North America in the climate models was sustained by anomalous subsidence and reductions of moisture convergence by the stationary flow and transient eddies. During the summers reductions of evaporation and mean flow moisture convergence drove the precipitation reduction, while transient eddies acted diffusively to oppose this. During these years the North American drought fitted into a global pattern of circulation and hydroclimate anomalies with noticeable zonal and hemispheric symmetry.During the later period of the drought, from 2002 to 2004, weak El Ni (n) over tildeo conditions prevailed and, while the global climate adjusted accordingly, western North America remained, uniquely among midlatitude regions, in drought. The ensemble mean of the climate model simulations did not simulate the continuation of the drought in these years, suggesting that the termination of the drought was largely unpredictable in terms of global ocean conditions.The global context of the most recent, turn of the century, drought is compared to the five prior persistent North American droughts in the instrumental record from the mid-nineteenth century on. A classic La Ni (n) over tildea pattern of ocean temperature in the Pacific is common to all. A cold Indian Ocean, also typical of La Ni (n) over tildea, is common to all five prior droughts, but not the most recent one. Except in southern South America the global pattern of precipitation anomalies of the turn of the century drought is similar to that during the five prior droughts. These comparisons suggest that the earlier period of this most recent drought is the latest in a series of multiyear droughts forced by persistent changes in tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures. Warm tropical North Atlantic Ocean temperatures may play a secondary role.


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Doi 10.1175/2007jcli1529.1