Cool- and warm-season precipitation reconstructions over western New Mexico


Precipitation over the southwestern United States exhibits distinctive seasonality, and contrasting ocean-atmospheric dynamics are involved in the interannual variability of cool- and warm-season totals. Tree-ring chronologies based on annual-ring widths of conifers in the southwestern United States are well correlated with accumulated precipitation and have previously been used to reconstruct cool-season and annual precipitation totals. However, annual-ring-width chronologies cannot typically be used to derive a specific record of summer monsoon-season precipitation. Some southwestern conifers exhibit a clear anatomical transition from the earlywood and latewood components of the annual ring, and these exactly dated sub-annual ring components can be measured separately and used as unique proxies of cool- and warm-season precipitation and their associated large-scale ocean-atmospheric dynamics. Two 2139-yr-long reconstructions of cool- (November-May) and early-warm season (July) precipitation have been developed from ancient conifers and relict wood at El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico. Both reconstructions have been verified on independent precipitation data and reproduce the spatial correlation patterns detected in the large-scale SST and 500-mb height fields using instrumental precipitation data from New Mexico. Above-average precipitation in the cool-season reconstruction is related to El Niño conditions and to the positive phase of the Pacific decadal oscillation. Above-average precipitation in July is related to the onset of the North American monsoon over New Mexico and with anomalies in the 500-mb height field favoring moisture advection into the Southwest from the North Pacific, the Gulf of California, and the Gulf of Mexico. Cool-and warm-season precipitation totals are not correlated on an interannual basis in the 74-yr instrumental or 2139-yr reconstructed records, but wet winter-spring extremes tend to be followed by dry conditions in July and very dry winters tend to be followed by wet Julys in the reconstructions. This antiphasing of extremes could arise from the hypothesized cool- to early-warm-season change in the sign of large-scale ocean-atmospheric forcing of southwestern precipitation, from the negative land surface feedback hypothesis in which winter-spring precipitation and snow cover reduce surface warming and delay the onset of the monsoon, or perhaps from an interaction of both large-scale and regional forcing. Episodes of simultaneous interseasonal drought ("perfect" interseasonal drought) persisted for a decade or more during the 1950s drought of the instrumental era and during the eighth- and sixteenth-century droughts, which appear to have been two of the most profound droughts over the Southwest in the past 1400 yr. Simultaneous interseasonal drought is doubly detrimental to dry-land crop yields and is estimated to have occurred during the mid-seventeenth-century famines of colonial New Mexico but was less frequent during the late-thirteenth-century Great Drought among the Anasazi, which was most severe during the cool season. © 2009 American Meteorological Society.

Publication Title

Journal of Climate