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Tracking interannual streamflow variability with drought indices in the U.S. Pacific Northwest

Author(s): John T. Abatzoglou, Renaud Barbero, Jacob W. Wolf, Zachary A. Holden
Year Published: 2014

Drought indices are often used for monitoring interannual variability in macroscale hydrology. However, the diversity of drought indices raises several issues: 1) which indices perform best and where; 2) does the incorporation of potential evapotranspiration (PET) in indices strengthen relationships, and how sensitive is the choice of PET methods to such results; 3) what additional value is added by using higher-spatial-resolution gridded climate layers; and 4) how have observed relationships changed through time. Standardized precipitation index, standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI), Palmer drought severity index, and water balance runoff (WBR) model output were correlated to water-year runoff for 21 unregulated drainage basins in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. SPEI and WBR with time scales encompassing the primary precipitation season maximized the explained variance in water-year runoff in most basins. Slightly stronger correlations were found using PET estimates from the Penman–Monteith method over the Thornthwaite method, particularly for time periods that incorporated the spring and summer months in basins that receive appreciable precipitation during the growing season. Indices computed using high-resolution climate surfaces explained over 10% more variability than metrics derived from coarser-resolution datasets. Increased correlation in the latter half of the study period was partially attributable to increased streamflow variability in recent decades as well as to improved climate data quality across the interior mountain watersheds.

Citation: Abatzoglou JT, Barber R, Wolf JW, Holden Z. 2014. Tracking interannual streamflow variability with drought indices in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Journal of Hydrometeorology 15, p. 1900-1912. Online. https://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-13-0167.1
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Weather
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 15659
Record updated: Jun 13, 2018