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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2018-420
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2018-420
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 24 Oct 2018

Research article | 24 Oct 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Influence of snow water equivalent on droughts and their prediction in the USA

Daniel Abel, Felix Pollinger, and Heiko Paeth Daniel Abel et al.
  • Institute of Geography and Geology, University of Wuerzburg, Am Hubland, 97074 Wuerzburg, Germany

Abstract. Droughts can result in enormous impacts for environment, societies, and economy. In arid or semiarid regions with bordering high mountains, snow is the major source of water supply due to its role as natural water storage. The goal of this study is to examine the influence of snow water equivalent (SWE) on droughts in the United States and find large-scale climatic predictors for SWE and drought. For this, a Maximum Covariance Analysis (MCA), also known as Singular Value Decomposition, is performed with snow data from the ERA–Interim reanalysis and the self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index (sc–PDSI) as drought index. Furthermore, the relationship of resulting principal components and original data with atmospheric patterns is investigated.

The leading mode shows the spatial connection between SWE and drought via downstream water/moisture transport. Especially the Rocky Mountains in Colorado (CR) play a key role for the central and western South, but the Sierra Nevada and even the Appalachian Mountains are relevant, too. The temperature and precipitation based sc–PDSI is able to capture this link because increased soil moisture results in higher evapotranspiration with lower sensible heat and vice versa. A time shifted MCA indicates a prediction skill for drought conditions in spring and early summer for the downstream regions of CR on the basis of SWE in March. Furthermore, the phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation is a good predictor for drought in the southern US and SWE around Colorado. The influence of the North Atlantic Oscillation and Pacific North American Pattern is not that clear.

Daniel Abel et al.
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Daniel Abel et al.
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Short summary
The results of this paper indicate a strong catchment based influence of snow water equivalent on droughts in the southwestern USA with a prediction skill for drought in spring and early summer. Additionally, it has been shown that drought indices with even simple potential evapotranspiration schemes are able to capture the effect of snow water equivalent and its melt on soil moisture and, thus, on evapotranspiration and temperature and, consequently, on droughts.
The results of this paper indicate a strong catchment based influence of snow water equivalent...
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