Analysis of Extreme Reversals in Seasonal and Annual Precipitation Anomalies Across the United States, 1895-2014
Marston, Michael Lee
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As population and urbanization increase across the United States, the effects of natural hazards may well increase, as extreme events would increasingly affect concentrated populations and the infrastructure upon which they rely. Extreme precipitation is one natural hazard that could stress concentrated populations, and climate change research is engaging heavy precipitation frequency and its impacts. This research focuses on the less-studied phenomenon of an extreme precipitation reversal - defined as an unusually wet (dry) period that is preceded by an unusually dry (wet) period. The magnitude is expressed as the difference in the percentiles of the consecutive periods analyzed. This concept has been documented only once before in a study that analyzed extreme precipitation reversals for a region within the southwestern United States. That study found that large differences in precipitation from consecutive winters, a hydrologically critical season for the region, occurred more frequently than what would be expected from random chance, and that extreme precipitation reversals have increased significantly since 1960. This research expands upon the previous work by extending the analysis to the entire continental United States and by including multiple temporal resolutions. Climate division data were used to determine seasonal and annual precipitation for each of nine climate regions of the continental United States from 1895-2014. Precipitation values were then ranked and given percentiles for seasonal and annual data. The season-to-season analysis was performed in two ways. The first examined consecutive seasons (e.g., winter–spring, spring–summer) while the second analyzed the seasonal data from consecutive years (e.g., spring 2014–spring 2015). The annual data represented precipitation for the period October 1–September 30, or the 'water year' used by water resource managers. Following the approach of the previous study, a secondary objective of the research was to examine large-scale climate teleconnections for historical relationships with the occurrence of precipitation reversals. The El Nino-Southern Oscillation was chosen for analysis due to its well-known relationships with precipitation patterns across the United States. Results indicate regional expressions of a propensity for extreme precipitation reversals and relationships with teleconnections that may afford stakeholders guidance for proactive management. Precipitation reversal (PR) and extreme precipitation reversal (EPR) values were significantly larger for the second half of the study period for the western United States for the winter-to-winter, spring-to-spring, and year-to-year analyses. The fall-to-fall analysis also revealed changes in PR/EPR values for several regions, including the northwest, the Northern Rockies and Plains, and the Ohio Valley. Relationships between the winter-to-winter PR time series and an index representing the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon were examined. The winter-to-winter PR time series of the Northern Rockies and Plains region and the South exhibited significant relationships with the time series of Niño 3.4 values. El Niño (La Niña) coincided with more wet-to-dry (dry-to-wet) PR/EPR values for the Northern Rockies and Plains, while El Niño (La Niña) coincided with more dry-to-wet (wet-to-dry) PR/EPR values for the South.
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