High temperatures a major player in California drought

June 2, 2015

RESTON, Va. — The research led to implications for higher temperatures on the environment.

RESTON, Va. — A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey  and university partners showed that abnormally high temperatures have greatly contributed to one of California’s worst droughts in history, according to a press release.

Record low precipitation has been the key player in the current drought, but researchers determined that the winter snowfall would have had a significantly greater impact if air temperatures had been lower and closer to the 1916-2012 average, reported the release. The spring-summer runoff would have been higher, and the spring-summer soil moisture deficits would have been smaller.

Lead study author Shraddhanand Shukla of the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB) compared climate data from water year 2014 to similar intervals during 1916 to 2012, noted the release.

“This experimental approach allows us to model past situations and tease out the influence of temperature in preceding drought conditions,” said Chris Funk, a USGS scientist and study co-author. “By crunching enough data over many, many simulations, the effect of temperature becomes more detectable.  We can’t do the same in reality, the here and now, because then we only have a single sample.”

The research led to implications for higher temperatures on the environment, though it does not directly address long-term climate change, stated the release.

“If average temperatures keep rising, we will be looking at more serious droughts, even if the historical variability of precipitation stays the same,” Shukla shared in the release. “The importance of temperature in drought prediction is likely to become only more significant in the future.”

Click here to read the entire release.

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