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  1. Abstract

    Anthropogenic climate change has already affected drought severity and risk across many regions, and climate models project additional increases in drought risk with future warming. Historically, droughts are typically caused by periods of below‐normal precipitation and terminated by average or above‐normal precipitation. In many regions, however, soil moisture is projected to decrease primarily through warming‐driven increases in evaporative demand, potentially affecting the ability of negative precipitation anomalies to cause drought and positive precipitation anomalies to terminate drought. Here, we use climate model simulations from Phase Six of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) to investigate how different levels of warming (1, 2, and 3°C) affect the influence of precipitation on soil moisture drought in the Mediterranean and Western North America regions. We demonstrate that the same monthly precipitation deficits (25th percentile relative to a preindustrial baseline) at a global warming level of 2°C increase the probability of both surface and rootzone soil moisture drought by 29% in the Mediterranean and 32% and 6% in Western North America compared to the preindustrial baseline. Furthermore, the probability of a dry (25th percentile relative to a preindustrial baseline) surface soil moisture month given a high (75th percentile relative to a preindustrial baseline) precipitation month is 6 (Mediterranean) and 3 (Western North America) times more likely in a 2°C world compared to the preindustrial baseline. For these regions, warming will likely increase the risk of soil moisture drought during low precipitation periods while simultaneously reducing the efficacy of high precipitation periods to terminate droughts.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2025
  2. Across western North America (WNA), 20th-21st century anthropogenic warming has increased the prevalence and severity of concurrent drought and heat events, also termed hot droughts. However, the lack of independent spatial reconstructions of both soil moisture and temperature limits the potential to identify these events in the past and to place them in a long-term context. We develop the Western North American Temperature Atlas (WNATA), a data-independent 0.5° gridded reconstruction of summer maximum temperatures back to the 16th century. Our evaluation of the WNATA with existing hydroclimate reconstructions reveals an increasing association between maximum temperature and drought severity in recent decades, relative to the past five centuries. The synthesis of these paleo-reconstructions indicates that the amplification of the modern WNA megadrought by increased temperatures and the frequency and spatial extent of compound hot and dry conditions in the 21st century are likely unprecedented since at least the 16th century.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 26, 2025
  3. Kenawy, Ahmed (Ed.)

    Observational and modeling studies indicate significant changes in the global hydroclimate in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries due to anthropogenic climate change. In this review, we analyze the recent literature on the observed changes in hydroclimate attributable to anthropogenic forcing, the physical and biological mechanisms underlying those changes, and the advantages and limitations of current detection and attribution methods. Changes in the magnitude and spatial patterns of precipitation minus evaporation (P–E) are consistent with increased water vapor content driven by higher temperatures. While thermodynamics explains most of the observed changes, the contribution of dynamics is not yet well constrained, especially at regional and local scales, due to limitations in observations and climate models. Anthropogenic climate change has also increased the severity and likelihood of contemporaneous droughts in southwestern North America, southwestern South America, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. An increased frequency of extreme precipitation events and shifts in phenology has also been attributed to anthropogenic climate change. While considerable uncertainties persist on the role of plant physiology in modulating hydroclimate and vice versa, emerging evidence indicates that increased canopy water demand and longer growing seasons negate the water-saving effects from increased water-use efficiency.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 30, 2024
  4. Abstract

    Quantifying the spatial and interconnected structure of regional to continental scale droughts is one of the unsolved global hydrology problems, which is important for understanding the looming risk of mega-scale droughts and the resulting water and food scarcity and their cascading impact on the worldwide economy. Using a Complex Network analysis, this study explores the topological characteristics of global drought events based on the self-calibrated Palmer Drought Severity Index. Event Synchronization is used to measure the strength of association between the onset of droughts at different spatial locations within the time lag of 1-3 months. The network coefficients derived from the synchronization network indicate a highly heterogeneous connectivity structure underlying global drought events. Drought hotspot regions such as Southern Europe, Northeast Brazil, Australia, and Northwest USA behave as drought hubs that synchronize regionally and with other hubs at inter-continental or even inter-hemispheric scale. This observed affinity among drought hubs is equivalent to the ‘rich-club phenomenon’ in Network Theory, where ‘rich’ nodes (here, drought hubs) are tightly interconnected to form a club, implicating the possibility of simultaneous large-scale droughts over multiple continents.

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  5. Streamflow often increases after fire, but the persistence of this effect and its importance to present and future regional water resources are unclear. This paper addresses these knowledge gaps for the western United States (WUS), where annual forest fire area increased by more than 1,100% during 1984 to 2020. Among 72 forested basins across the WUS that burned between 1984 and 2019, the multibasin mean streamflow was significantly elevated by 0.19 SDs ( P < 0.01) for an average of 6 water years postfire, compared to the range of results expected from climate alone. Significance is assessed by comparing prefire and postfire streamflow responses to climate and also to streamflow among 107 control basins that experienced little to no wildfire during the study period. The streamflow response scales with fire extent: among the 29 basins where >20% of forest area burned in a year, streamflow over the first 6 water years postfire increased by a multibasin average of 0.38 SDs, or 30%. Postfire streamflow increases were significant in all four seasons. Historical fire–climate relationships combined with climate model projections suggest that 2021 to 2050 will see repeated years when climate is more fire-conducive than in 2020, the year currently holding the modern record for WUS forest area burned. These findings center on relatively small, minimally managed basins, but our results suggest that burned areas will grow enough over the next 3 decades to enhance streamflow at regional scales. Wildfire is an emerging driver of runoff change that will increasingly alter climate impacts on water supplies and runoff-related risks. 
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  6. Northwestern Europe has experienced a trend of increasingly wet winters over the past 150 years, with few explanations for what may have driven this hydroclimatic change. Here we use the Old World Drought Atlas (OWDA), a tree-ring based reconstruction of the self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index (scPDSI), to examine this wetting trend and place it in a longer hydroclimatic context. We find that scPDSI variability in northwestern Europe is strongly correlated with the leading mode of the OWDA during the last millennium (1000–2012). This leading mode, here named the ‘English Channel’ (EC) mode, has pronounced variability on interannual to centennial timescales and has an expression in scPDSI similar to that of the East Atlantic teleconnection pattern. A shift in the EC mode from a prolonged negative phase to more neutral conditions during the 19th and 20th centuries is associated with the wetting trend over its area of influence in England, Wales, and much of northern continental Europe. The EC mode is the dominant scPDSI mode from approximately 1000–1850, after which its dominance waned in favor of the secondary ‘North–South’ (NS) mode, which has an expression in scPDSI similar to that of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). We examine the dynamical nature of both of these modes and how they vary on interannual to centennial timescales. Our results provide insight into the nature of hydroclimate variability in Europe before the widespread availability of instrumental observations. 
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  7. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Droughts that span the states of Washington, Oregon, and California are rare but devastating due to their large spatial coverage and potential loss of redundancies in water, agricultural, and fire-fighting resources. Such pan-coastal droughts [which we define using boreal summer volumetric soil moisture along the U.S. Pacific coast (32°–50°N, 115°–127°W)] require a more precise understanding of the roles played by the Pacific Ocean and internal atmospheric variability. We employ 16-member ensembles of the Community Atmosphere Model version 5 and Community Climate Model version 3 forced with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) from 1856 to 2012 to separate and quantify the influences of the tropical Pacific and internal atmospheric variability on pan-coastal droughts; all other boundary conditions are kept at climatological levels to explicitly isolate for the impacts of SST changes. Internal atmospheric variability is the dominant driver of pan-coastal droughts, accounting for 84% of their severity, and can reliably generate pan-coastal droughts even when ocean conditions do not favor drought. Cold phases of the Pacific Ocean play a secondary role and contribute, on average, only 16% to pan-coastal drought severity. Spatiotemporal analyses of precipitation and soil moisture along the U.S. Pacific coast corroborate these findings and identify an antiphased wet–dry dipole pattern induced by the Pacific to play a more secondary role. Our model framework expands on previous observational analyses that point to the spatially uniform forcing of internal atmospheric variability as the more dominant mode of hydroclimate variability along the U.S. Pacific coast. The secondary nature of oceanic forcing suggests limited predictability of pan-continental droughts. 
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