AbstractThe recent dryness in California was unprecedented in the instrumental record. This article employs spatially explicit precipitation reconstructions for California in combination with instrumental data to provide perspective on this event since 1571. The period 2012–15 stands out as particularly extreme in the southern Central Valley and south coast regions. which likely experienced unprecedented precipitation deficits over this time, apart from considerations of increasing temperatures and drought metrics that combine temperature and moisture information. Some areas lost more than two years’ average moisture delivery during these four years, and full recovery to long-term average moisture delivery could typically take up to several decades in the hardest-hit areas. These results highlight the value of the additional centuries of information provided by the paleo record, which indicates the shorter instrumental record may underestimate the statewide recovery time by over 30%. The extreme El Niño that occurred in 2015/16 ameliorated recovery in much of the northern half of the state, and since 1571 very-strong-to-extreme El Niños during the first year after a 2012–15-type event reduce statewide recovery times by approximately half. The southern part of California did not experience the high precipitation anticipated, and the multicentury analysis suggests the north-wet–south-dry pattern for such an El Niño was a low-likelihood anomaly. Recent wetness in California motivated evaluation of recovery times when the first two years are relatively wet, suggesting the state is benefiting from a one-in-five (or lower) likelihood situation: the likelihood of full recovery within two years is ~1% in the instrumental data and even lower in the reconstruction data.
Journal of Climate – American Meteorological Society
Published: Aug 31, 2017
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