Article

Climate Dynamics

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 413-426

First online:

Extraordinary heat during the 1930s US Dust Bowl and associated large-scale conditions

  • Markus G. DonatAffiliated withARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales Email author 
  • , Andrew D. KingAffiliated withARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South WalesARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne
  • , Jonathan T. OverpeckAffiliated withDepartment of Geosciences and Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona
  • , Lisa V. AlexanderAffiliated withARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales
  • , Imke DurreAffiliated withNOAA’s National Climatic Data Center
  • , David J. KarolyAffiliated withARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

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Abstract

Unusually hot summer conditions occurred during the 1930s over the central United States and undoubtedly contributed to the severity of the Dust Bowl drought. We investigate local and large-scale conditions in association with the extraordinary heat and drought events, making use of novel datasets of observed climate extremes and climate reanalysis covering the past century. We show that the unprecedented summer heat during the Dust Bowl years was likely exacerbated by land-surface feedbacks associated with springtime precipitation deficits. The reanalysis results indicate that these deficits were associated with the coincidence of anomalously warm North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific surface waters and a shift in atmospheric pressure patterns leading to reduced flow of moist air into the central US. Thus, the combination of springtime ocean temperatures and atmospheric flow anomalies, leading to reduced precipitation, also holds potential for enhanced predictability of summer heat events. The results suggest that hot drought, more severe than experienced during the most recent 2011 and 2012 heat waves, is to be expected when ocean temperature anomalies like those observed in the 1930s occur in a world that has seen significant mean warming.

Keywords

Extreme heat Drought Seasonal predictability Climate variability Teleconnections 20th century reanalysis GHCNDEX