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Title: Dynamics and Variability of the Spring Dry Season in the United States Southwest as Observed in AmeriFlux and NLDAS-2 Data

The spring dry season occurring in an arid region of the southwestern United States, which receives both winter storm track and summer monsoon precipitation, is investigated. Bimodal precipitation and vegetation growth provide an opportunity to assess multiple climate mechanisms and their impact on hydroclimate and ecosystems. We detect multiple shifts from wet to drier conditions in the observational record and land surface model output. Focusing on the recent dry period, a shift in the late 1990s resulted in earlier and greater spring soil moisture draw down, and later and reduced spring vegetation green-up, compared to a prior wet period (1979–97). A simple soil moisture balance model shows this shift is driven by changes in winter precipitation. The recent post-1999 dry period and an earlier one from 1948 to 1966 are both related to the cool tropics phase of Pacific decadal variability, which influences winter precipitation. In agreement with other studies for the southwestern United States, we find the recent drought cannot be explained in terms of precipitation alone, but also is due to the rising influence of temperature, thus highlighting the sensitivity of this region to warming temperatures. Future changes in the spring dry season will therefore be affected by more » how tropical decadal variability evolves, and also by emerging trends due to human-driven warming.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Journal of Hydrometeorology
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 1081-1102
American Meteorological Society
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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