Weather and Climate Systems

The 21st Century Megadrought Across the Southern Plains – Fact or Fallacy?

Michael Scotten
OU School of Meteorology

29 April 2015, 3:00 PM

National Weather Center, Room 5600
120 David L. Boren Blvd.
University of Oklahoma
Norman, OK

The understanding and prediction of megadroughts are very important to the Southern Plains of the United States since they can have devastating impacts on agriculture, water resources, and the economy. Numerous studies have shown that megadroughts have occurred in the past.

This study examined precipitation patterns 1901-2014 at six sites across the Southern Plains, which includes the states of Oklahoma and Texas, to determine if any megadroughts occurred during this time frame and to see if one may be developing. Two megadrought definitions were used in this study. The first definition by Meehl and Hu (2006) expressed megadrought as an 11-yr running mean of area-averaged precipitation anomalies less than zero for at least 20 consecutive years. The second definition by Ault et al. (2014) explained multidecadal megadrought as -0.5σ departures in the 35-yr running mean of precipitation.

Using the Meehl and Hu (2006) definition, it was found that Corpus Christi experienced a megadrought 1901-1931, and Oklahoma City experienced a megadrought 1943-1981. No megadroughts were noted 1901-2014 at any of the six sites using the Ault et al. (2014) definition. The results using both definitions suggested that a megadrought is not currently developing since 1980-2014 was a relatively wet period compared to the entire 1901-2014 period.

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