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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 04 Mar 2019

Research article | 04 Mar 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Climate of the Past (CP).

Two types of North American droughts related to different atmospheric circulation patterns

Angela-Maria Burgdorf1,2, Stefan Brönnimann1,2, and Jörg Franke1,2 Angela-Maria Burgdorf et al.
  • 1Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, 3012, Switzerland
  • 2Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, 3012, Switzerland

Abstract. Proxy-based studies suggest that the southwestern USA is affected by two types of drought, often termed Dust Bowl-type droughts and 1950s type droughts. The spatial drought patterns of the two types are distinct. It has been suggested that they are related to different circulation characteristics, but lack of observation-based data has precluded further studies. In this paper, we analyze multi-annual droughts in North America since 1600 in tree-ring based drought reconstructions and in a global, monthly 3-dimensional reconstruction of the atmosphere. Using cluster analysis of drought indices, we confirm the two main drought types and find a similar catalog of events as previous studies. These two main types of droughts are then analyzed with respect to sea-surface temperatures (SST), sea-level pressure, and 500 hPa geopotential height (GPH) in summer. 1950s-type droughts are related to a stronger wave-train over the Pacific-North American sector than Dust Bowl-type droughts, whereas the latter show the imprint of a poleward shifted jet and establishment of a Great Plains ridge. The 500 hPa GPH patterns of the two types differ significantly not only over the contiguous United States and Canada but also over the North Atlantic and the Pacific. Dust Bowl-type droughts are associated with positive anomalies, while 1950s-type droughts exhibit strong negative anomalies. In comparison with 1950s-type droughts, the Dust Bowl-type droughts are characterized by higher SSTs in the North Atlantic. Results suggest that atmospheric circulation and SST characteristics not only over the Pacific but also over the extratropical North Atlantic affect the spatial pattern of North American droughts.

Angela-Maria Burgdorf et al.
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Angela-Maria Burgdorf et al.
Angela-Maria Burgdorf et al.
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