Ocean-atmosphere trajectories of extended drought in southwestern North America

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Climate dynamics
Climate model
Tropical Pacific
Multiyear droughts are a common occurrence in southwestern North America (SWNA), but it is unclear what causes these persistent dry periods. The ocean‐atmosphere conditions coinciding with droughts have traditionally been studied using correlation and composite methods, which suggest that cool conditions in the tropical Pacific are associated with SWNA droughts and warm conditions are associated with wet periods in SWNA. Nevertheless, the extent to which multiyear droughts are truly consistent with this paradigm remains unknown. This is, in part, because the temporal trajectory of ocean‐atmosphere conditions during these dry periods have not been sufficiently characterized. Here we examine the continuum of ocean‐atmosphere trajectories before, during, and after multiyear droughts in SWNA using observation‐based data and an ensemble of climate model simulations from the Community Earth System Model. An examination of sea surface temperature patterns at the beginning, middle, and end of SWNA droughts shows that an El Niño event tends to precede SWNA droughts, a cool tropical Pacific occurs during droughts, and central Pacific El Niño events end droughts. However, moderate El Niño events can occur in the middle of persistent droughts, so a warm tropical Pacific does not always end these dry periods. These findings are important for drought predictability and emphasize the need to improve simulations of the magnitude, life cycle, and frequency of occurrence of El Niño events.
Author Posting. © American Geophysical Union, 2019. This article is posted here by permission of American Geophysical Union for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres 124(16), (2019): 8953-8971, doi: 10.1029/2019JD030424.
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Parsons, L. A., & Coats, S. (2019). Ocean-atmosphere trajectories of extended drought in southwestern North America. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 124(16), 8953-8971.
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