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A hydrologic perspective of major U.S. droughts

October 26, 2022

Drought is a recurring natural hazard that has substantial human and environmental impacts. Given continued global warming and associated climate change, there is concern that droughts could become more severe and longer lasting. To better monitor and understand drought development and persistence, it is helpful to understand the development and climatic drivers of past droughts. In this study we use monthly runoff percentiles to identify five major drought events in the conterminous United States (CONUS) from 1901 through 2020. For each drought event we examined spatial patterns of departures of mean monthly precipitation, temperature, soil moisture storage, and runoff for 2,107 hydrologic units (HUs) across the CONUS. Results indicated that precipitation deficits have been the primary driver of past major-drought events and temperature a secondary driver, even of the most recent drought event (September 1999 through September 2015) when positive temperature anomalies occurred over most of the CONUS. Additionally, negative soil moisture storage departures were more negative than runoff departures during the five drought events we examined, which emphasizes the importance of measuring both runoff and soil moisture to monitor drought conditions. We also examined the use of statistical persistence to develop short-term (i.e., 1 month) forecasts of runoff drought conditions in the CONUS by developing autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) models for each HU. Results indicated that persistence can be used to predict short-term changes in the spatial pattern of drought and the areal extent of drought, but that predictions of runoff magnitude for any particular site are often poor.

Publication Year 2023
Title A hydrologic perspective of major U.S. droughts
DOI 10.1002/joc.7904
Authors Gregory J. McCabe, David M. Wolock, Melissa Lombard, Robert W. Dudley, John Christopher Hammond, Jory Seth Hecht, Glenn A. Hodgkins, Carolyn G. Olson, Roy Sando, Caelan E. Simeone, Michael E. Wieczorek
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title International Journal of Climatology
Index ID 70241095
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Integrated Modeling and Prediction Division