Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling

The Joint Statistics of California Temperature and Precipitation as a Function of the Large-scale State of the Climate

Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 13:40
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Single climatic extremes have a strong and disproportionate effect on society and the natural environment. However, the joint occurrence of two or more concurrent extremes has the potential to negatively impact these areas of life in ways far greater than any single event could. California, USA, home to nearly 40 million people and the largest agricultural producer in the United States, is currently experiencing an extreme drought, which has persisted for several years. While drought is commonly thought of in terms of only precipitation deficits, above average temperatures co-occurring with precipitation deficits greatly exacerbate drought conditions. The 2014 calendar year in California was characterized both by extremely low precipitation and extremely high temperatures, which has significantly deepened the already extreme drought conditions leading to severe water shortages and wildfires. While many studies have shown the statistics of 2014 temperature and precipitation anomalies as outliers, none have demonstrated a connection with large-scale, long-term climate trends, which would provide useful relationships for predicting the future trajectory of California climate and water resources. We focus on understanding non-stationarity in the joint distribution of California temperature and precipitation anomalies in terms of large-scale, low-frequency trends in climate such as global mean temperature rise and oscillatory indices such as ENSO and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation among others. We consider temperature and precipitation data from the seven distinct climate divisions in California and employ a novel, high-fidelity kernel density estimation method to directly infer the multivariate distribution of temperature and precipitation anomalies conditioned on the large-scale state of the climate. We show that the joint distributions and associated statistics of temperature and precipitation are non-stationary and vary regionally in California. Further, we show that recurrence intervals of extreme concurrent events vary as a function of time and of teleconnections. This research has implications for predicting and forecasting future temperature and precipitation anomalies, which is critically important for city, water, and agricultural planning in California.

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