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HOME > Outreach > Meetings > 33rd Annual Climate Diagnostics & Prediction Workshop > Abstracts

Simulating Multi-Season Past Droughts


Abstract Author: Rachel R. McCrary, David A. Randall

Abstract Title: Do the AR4 IPCC models simulate the “Dust Bowl”?

Abstract: The Great Plains region of the United States was influenced by a number of multi-year droughts during the twentieth century. Most notable were the “Dust Bowl” drought of the 1930s and the 1950s Great Plains drought. In this study we evaluate the ability of three of the Coupled Global Climate Models (CGCMs) used in the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC to simulate Great Plains drought with the same frequency and intensity as was observed during the twentieth century. The models chosen for this study are: GFDL CM 2.0, NCAR CCSM3, and UKMO HadCM3. We find that the models accurately capture the climatology of the hydrologic cycle of the Great Plains, but that they tend to overestimate the variability in Great Plains precipitation. We also find that in each model simulation at least one long-term drought occurs over the Great Plains region during their representations 20th Century Climate. The multi-year droughts produced by the models exhibit similar magnitudes and spatial scales as was observed during the twentieth century.

This study also investigates the relative roles that external forcing from the tropical Pacific and local feedbacks between the land surface and the atmosphere have in the initiation and perpetuation of Great Plains drought in each model. We find that cool, “La Nina-like” conditions in the tropical pacific are often associated with long-term drought conditions over the Great Plains in GFDL CM 2.0 and UKMO HadCM3, but in NCAR CCSM3, both cool and warm conditions in the tropical Pacific can associated with long-term, Great Plains drought. It is possible the strong coupling between the land surface and the atmosphere in the NCAR model causes precipitation anomalies to lock into phase over the Great Plains thereby perpetuating drought conditions. Results from this study are intended to help assess whether or not these climate models are credible for use in the assessment of future drought over the Great Plains region of the United States.

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