Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Analysis links Pacific decadal variability to drought and streamflow in United States


  • Sumant Nigam,

  • Mathew Barlow,

  • Ernesto H. Berbery


The two leading patterns of Pacific decadal sea surface temperature (SST) variability are strongly linked to large-scale patterns of warm-season drought and streamflow in the United States, recent analysis shows. The predictive potential of this link may contribute to the development of warm-season hydroclimate forecasts in the United States. Understanding of low-frequency variations in drought and streamflow would be important for both agriculture and water resources management.

The two leading patterns are what we call the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the North Pacific mode. Their link with drought and streamflow patterns was notably expressed in the 1960s when severe drought in the northeast (the 1962–66 “Northeastern” drought) and exceptional positive SST anomalies in the North Pacific Ocean (Figures 1a, 1b) both occurred. Analysis of upper tropospheric circulation anomalies showed the North Pacific to be a source region of wave activity affecting the drought area in these summers. The anomalous circulation was vertically coherent and opposed the climatological low-level moisture inflow over the eastern United States associated with the western extension of the Bermuda High.