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Title: The Severity of the 2014–2015 Snow Drought in the Oregon Cascades in a Multicentury Context

The western United States (US) is a hotspot for snow drought. The Oregon Cascade Range is highly sensitive to warming and as a result has experienced the largest mountain snowpack losses in the western US since the mid‐20th century, including a record‐breaking snow drought in 2014–2015 that culminated in a state of emergency. While Oregon Cascade snowpacks serve as the state's primary water supply, short instrumental records limit water managers' ability to fully constrain long‐term natural snowpack variability prior to the influence of ongoing and projected anthropogenic climate change. Here, we use annually‐resolved tree‐ring records to develop the first multi‐century reconstruction of Oregon Cascade April 1st Snow Water Equivalent (SWE). The model explains 58% of observed snowpack variability and extends back to 1688 AD, nearly quintupling the length of the existing snowpack record. Our reconstruction suggests that only one other multiyear event in the last three centuries was as severe as the 2014–2015 snow drought. The 2015 event alone was more severe than nearly any other year in over three centuries. Extreme low‐to‐high snowpack “whiplash” transitions are a consistent feature throughout the reconstructed record. Multi‐decadal intervals of persistent below‐the‐mean peak SWE are prominent features of pre‐instrumental snowpack variability, but are generally absent from the instrumental period and likely not fully accounted for in modern water management. In the face of projected snow drought intensification and warming, our findings motivate adaptive management strategies that address declining snowpack and increasingly variable precipitation regimes.

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DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
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Journal Name:
Water Resources Research
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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