Seasonal precipitation influences streamflow vulnerability to the 2015 drought in the western United States

Journal of Hydrometeorology
NOAA
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Abstract

Streamflow was exceptionally low in the spring and summer of 2015 across much of the western United States because of a regional drought that exploited the sensitivity of both snow- and rain-dominant rivers. Streamflow during 2015 was examined at 324 gauges in the region to assess its response to the amount, form, and seasonal timing of precipitation and the viability of using spatially aggregated, normative models to assess streamflow vulnerability to drought. Seasonal rain and spring snowmelt had the strongest effects on runoff during the same season, but their effects persisted into subsequent seasons as well. Below-normal runoff in the spring of 2015 was pervasive across the region, while distinct seasonal responses were evident in different hydroclimatic settings: January–March (winter) runoff was above normal in most snow-dominant rivers and runoff in all seasons was above normal for much of the desert Southwest. Summer precipitation contributed to summer runoff in both the Pacific Northwest and desert Southwest. A first-order model that presumes runoff is a constant fraction of precipitation (the precipitation elasticity of runoff, E = 1) could be used for assessing and forecasting runoff responses to precipitation deficits across the region, but runoff generally is more vulnerable to drought (E > 1) than predicted by a first-order model. Uncertainty in spring and summer precipitation forecasts remain critical issues for forecasting and predicting summer streamflow vulnerability to drought across much of the western United States.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Seasonal precipitation influences streamflow vulnerability to the 2015 drought in the western United States
Series title Journal of Hydrometeorology
DOI 10.1175/JHM-D-18-0121.1
Volume 20
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher AMS
Contributing office(s) Washington Water Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 1261
Last page 1274