, Volume 76, Issue 3-4, pp 427-441
Date: 10 Jun 2006

A reanalysis of the relationship between strong westerlies and precipitation in the Great Plains and Midwest regions of North America

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Abstract

A conceptual model relating expanded or strengthened mid-latitude summer westerlies with summer precipitation patterns has been used to explain past drought events in the Great Plains and Midwest of North America, including drought between 1200 and 1400 AD. However, this relationship was originally described using 20 years of instrumental data from the mid 20{th} century, and has not been verified with modern datasets. We reinvestigated the relationship between July westerlies and precipitation in the United States using instrumental records of the last 55 years. We also investigated whether changes in summer zonal flow patterns associated with precipitation anomalies represent a shift in the latitude of peak westerly winds or an increase in wind speed, or a combination of both.

Finally, we briefly compare the pattern of precipitation anomalies to paleoclimatic records of drought between 1200 and 1400 AD. Results confirm that strong westerlies are associated with a band of decreased precipitation extending from the northern Rockies into the Midwest. Changes in summer westerlies associated with these patterns are characterized by a strengthening of mean westerly winds, with only a slight southward shift of peak winds over the Atlantic. Changes in the strength of the westerlies over both the Pacific and Atlantic appear to be important to precipitation deficits in the Midwest. Proxy-climate records from 1200 to 1400 AD indicate widespread drought in the Great Plains and Midwest, consistent with the hypothesis of stronger westerlies at this time. However, drought conditions also extended to other regions of North America, indicating a more detailed understanding of the potential causes and synoptic climatology is needed.