Characterization of Drought in the South Atlantic, United States

Authors


  • Paper No. JAWRA-12-0150-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA).
  • Discussions are open until six months from print publication.

Abstract

Drought has been less extensively characterized in the humid South Atlantic compared to the arid western United States. Our objective was to characterize drought in the South Atlantic and to understand whether drought has become more severe in this region over time. Here we used monthly streamflow to characterize hydrological drought. Hydrological drought occurred when streamflow fell below the 20th percentile over three consecutive months and terminated once streamflow remained above the 20th percentile for three consecutive months. We characterized the frequency, duration, magnitude, and severity of events using the above definition. Significant changes in drought characteristics were tested with Mann-Kendall over three periods: 1930-2010, 1930-1969, and 1970-2010. We show that 71% of drought events were shorter than six months, while 7% were multiyear events. There was little evidence of trends in drought characteristics to support the claim of drought becoming more severe in the South Atlantic over the 20th Century. The one exception was a significant increase in the joint probability of nearby basins being simultaneously in drought conditions in the southern portion of the study area from 1970 to 2010. While drought characteristics have changed little through time, decreasing average streamflow in non drought periods coupled with increasing water demand provide the context within which recent multiyear drought events have produced significant stress on existing water infrastructure.

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