Do climate model predictions agree with long-term precipitation trends in the arid southwestern United States?

TitleDo climate model predictions agree with long-term precipitation trends in the arid southwestern United States?
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsElias E, Rango A., James D.K., Maxwell CJ, Anderson JP, Abatzoglou JT
Conference NameAmerican Geophysical Union
Date Published12/2016
PublisherAmerican Geophysical Union
Conference LocationSan Francisco, CA
ARIS Log Number336572
Researchers evaluating climate projections across southwestern North America observed a decreasing precipitation trend. Aridification was most pronounced in the cold (non-monsoonal) season, whereas downward trends in precipitation were smaller in the warm (monsoonal) season. In this region, based upon a multimodel mean of 20 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 models using a business-as-usual (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5) trajectory, midcentury precipitation is projected to increase slightly during the monsoonal time period (July-September; 6%) and decrease slightly during the remainder of the year (October-June; -4%). We use observed long-term (1915-2015) monthly precipitation records from 16 weather stations to investigate how well measured trends corroborate climate model predictions during the monsoonal and non-monsoonal timeframe. Running trend analysis using the Mann-Kendall test for 15 to 101 year moving windows reveals that half the stations showed significant (p=0.1), albeit small, increasing trends based on the longest term record. Trends based on shorter-term records reveal a period of significant precipitation decline at all stations representing the 1950s drought. Trends from 1930 to 2015 reveal significant annual, monsoonal and non-monsoonal increases in precipitation (Fig 1). The 1960 to 2015 time window shows no significant precipitation trends. The more recent time window (1980 to 2015) shows a slight, but not significant, increase in monsoonal precipitation and a larger, significant decline in non-monsoonal precipitation. GCM precipitation projections are consistent with more recent trends for the region. Running trends from the most recent time window (mid-1990s to 2015) at all stations show increasing monsoonal precipitation and decreasing Oct-Jun precipitation, with significant trends at 6 of 16 stations. Running trend analysis revealed that the long-term trends were not persistent throughout the series length, but depended on the period examined. Recent trends in Southwest precipitation are directionally consistent with anthropogenic climate change.