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Annual drought in California: Association with monthly precipitation and climate phases

TitleAnnual drought in California: Association with monthly precipitation and climate phases
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsShukla S., Steinemann A., Iacobellis S.F, Cayan DR
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
Date Published2015/11
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1558-8424
Accession NumberWOS:000364966100002
KeywordsClimate variability; drought; Emergency preparedness; impacts; precipitation; Risk assessment; southern-oscillation; temperature; variability; western united-states

Annual precipitation in California is more variable than in any other state and is highly influenced by precipitation in winter months. A primary question among stakeholders is whether low precipitation in certain months is a harbinger of annual drought in California. Historical precipitation data from 1895 to 2013 are investigated to identify leading monthly indicators of annual drought in each of the seven climate divisions (CDs) as well as statewide. For this study, drought conditions are defined as monthly/annual (October-September) precipitation below the 20th/30th percentile, and a leading indicator is defined as a monthly drought preceding or during an annual drought that has the strongest association (i.e., joint probability of occurrence) with a statewide annual drought. Monthly precipitation variability and contributions to annual precipitation, along with joint probabilities of drought among the winter months, are first analyzed. Then the probabilities of annual drought and the variability in leading indicators are analyzed according to different climate phases and CDs. This study identified December within a water year as being the leading indicator that is most frequently associated with annual drought statewide (56%) and in most of the CDs (the highest was CD2 at 65%). Associated with its leading-indicator status, December drought was most frequently associated with drought in other winter months (joint probability > 30%). Results from this study can help stakeholders to understand and assess the likelihood of annual drought events given monthly precipitation preceding or early in the water year.

Short TitleJ. Appl. Meteorol. Climatol.
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