A climatic deconstruction of recent drought trends in the United States

The researchers present high spatial-resolution trends of the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI), potential evapotranspiration (PET), and selected climate variables from 1979–2013 for the contiguous United States in order to gain an understanding of recent drought trends and their climatic forcings. Based on a spatial grouping analysis, four regions of increasing (upper Midwest, Louisiana, southeastern United States (US), and western US) and decreasing (New England, Pacific Northwest, upper Great Plains, and Ohio River Valley) drought trends based on Mann–Kendall Z values were found. Within these regions, partial correlation and multiple regression for trends in climate variables and PDSI were performed to examine potential climatic controls on these droughts. As expected, there was a US-wide concurrence on drought forcing by precipitation. However, there was correspondence of recent PET trends with recent drought trends in many regions. For regions with an increase in recent droughts, average air temperature was generally the second most important variable after precipitation in determining recent drought trends. Across the regions where recent drought trends are decreasing, there was no clear ranking of climate-variable importance, where trends in average temperature, specific humidity and net radiation all played significant regional roles in determining recent drought trends. Deconstructing the trends in drought show that, while there are regions in the US showing positive and negative trends in drought conditions, the climate forcings for these drought trends are regionally specific. The results of this study allow for the interpretation of the role of the changing hydroclimatic cycle in recent drought trends, which also have implications for the current and impending results of climate change.