Cores and cross sections from 133 limber pine (Pinus flexilis James) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirbel) Franco) at four sites were used to estimate annual (July to June) precipitation in the Yellowstone National Park region for the period from AD 1173 to 1998. Examination of the long-term record shows that the early 20th century was markedly wet compared to the previous 700 yr. Extreme wet and dry years within the instrumental period fall within the range of past variability, and the magnitude of the worst-case droughts of the 20th century (AD 1930s and 1950s) was likely equaled or exceeded on numerous occasions before AD 1900. Spectral analysis showed significant decadal to multidecadal precipitation variability. At times this lower frequency variability produces strong regime-like behavior in regional precipitation, with the potential for rapid, high-amplitude switching between predominately wet and predominately dry conditions. Over multiple time scales, strong Yellowstone region precipitation anomalies were almost always associated with spatially extensive events spanning various combinations of the central and southern U.S. Rockies, the northern U.S.-Southern Canadian Rockies and the Pacific Northwest.
Additional publication details
Annual precipitation in the Yellowstone National Park region since AD 1173