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Variability of runoff-based drought conditions in the conterminous United States

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In this study, a monthly water-balance model is used to simulate monthly runoff for 2109 hydrologic units (HUs) in the conterminous United States (CONUS) for water-years 1901 through 2014. The monthly runoff time series for each HU were smoothed with a 3-month moving average, and then the 3-month moving-average runoff values were converted to percentiles. For each HU, a drought was considered to occur when the HU runoff percentile dropped to the 20th percentile or lower. A drought was considered to end when the HU runoff percentile exceeded the 20th percentile. After identifying drought events for each HU, the frequency and length of drought events were examined. Results indicated that (1) the longest mean drought lengths occur in the eastern CONUS and parts of the Rocky Mountain region and the northwestern CONUS, (2) the frequency of drought is highest in the southwestern and central CONUS, and lowest in the eastern CONUS, the Rocky Mountain region, and the northwestern CONUS, (3) droughts have occurred during all months of the year and there does not appear to be a seasonal pattern to drought occurrence, (4) the variability of precipitation appears to have been the principal climatic factor determining drought, and (5) for most of the CONUS, drought frequency appears to have decreased during the 1901 through 2014 period.




McCabe, G. J., Wolock, D. M., & Austin, S. H. (2017). Variability of runoff-based drought conditions in the conterminous United States. International Journal of Climatology, 37(2), 1014–1021.

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