• Canadian Prairies;
  • climate change;
  • drought frequency;
  • drought severity;
  • precipitation deficit;
  • regional climate


The Canadian Prairies have experienced severe and extended droughts that have had significant impacts on agriculture, energy and other socio-economic sectors; it is therefore desirable to assess future changes to drought characteristics in this drought prone region, in the context of a changing climate. This study addresses validation and projected changes to short- and long-term drought characteristics, i.e. severity, frequency and duration, over the Canadian Prairies, using an ensemble of ten Canadian RCM (CRCM) simulations, of which five correspond to the current 1971–2000 period and the other five are the matching simulations for the future 2041–2070 period. These five pairs of current and future CRCM simulations were driven by five different members of a Canadian Global Climate Model ensemble. Validation of CRCM simulated precipitation suggests that the model reproduces the observed precipitation distribution for all seasons, except summer, across a large portion of the Canadian Prairies. However, comparison of CRCM simulated drought characteristics with those observed suggests that the model has difficulties in reproducing observed severity, frequency and duration of drought events, particularly those associated with longer events, possibly due to the overestimation of summer precipitation by the model. Analysis of projected changes to precipitation and drought characteristics between the 1971–2000 and 2041–2070 periods suggests a decrease in mean precipitation in summer and an increase for the other seasons, while the severity, frequency and maximum duration of both short- and long-term droughts are projected to increase over the southern Prairies, with the largest projected changes associated with longer drought events. Classification of the watersheds spanning the southern Prairies based on changes to both severity and frequency further reveal the vulnerability of this region in a changing climate. Copyright © 2012 Royal Meteorological Society