A 230-year record of the Palmer drought-severity index (PDSI) was estimated for northern Virginia from variations in widths of tree rings. Increment cores were extracted from eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carr., at three locations in northern Virginia. Measurements of annual growth increments were made and converted to standardized indices of growth.
A response function was derived for hemlock to determine the growth-climate relationship. Growth was positively correlated with precipitation and negatively correlated with temperature during the May-July growing season. Combined standardized indices of growth were calibrated with the July PDSI. Growth accounted for 20-30 percent of the PDSI variance. Further regressions using factor scores of combined tree growth indices resulted in a small but significant improvement. Greatest improvement was made by using factor scores of growth indices of individual trees, thereby accounting for 64 percent of the July PDSI variance in the regression.
Comparison of the results with a 241-year reconstruction from New York showed good agreement between low-frequency climatic trends. Analysis of the estimated Central Mountain climatic division of Virginia PDSI record indicated that, relative to the long-term record (1746-1975), dry years have occurred in disproportionally larger numbers during the last half of the 19th century and the mid-20th century. This trend appears reversed for the last half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. Although these results are considered first-generation products, they are encouraging, suggesting that once additional tree-ring chronologies are constructed and techniques are refined, it will be possible to obtain more accurate estimates of prior climatic conditions in the mid-Atlantic region.
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USGS Numbered Series
Dendroclimatic estimates of a drought index for northern Virginia