, Volume 121, Issue 4, pp 673-687
Date: 25 Oct 2013

Severity, duration and frequency of drought in SE England from 1697 to 2011

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Severe droughts have affected much of Europe over the last 40 years. A limitation to current understanding of droughts is based around drought characteristics (e.g. frequency, severity and duration) as there are limited long series (>100 years) with well documented severe droughts. This is further complicated with future climate projections, and the potential implications that these will have on drought characteristics. This paper presents reconstructed drought series from 1697, 1726 and 1767 to 2011 for three sites in southeast England. Precipitation and temperature series are reconstructed to generate long drought series using the self-calibrated Palmer Drought Severity Index, enabling determination of drought characteristics. The reconstructions identify multiple drought-rich periods, 1730–1760 and 1890-present, with an increasing tendency towards more severe droughts during the latter period. Prolonged rainfall deficiencies are found to be the primary cause of severe droughts, with rising temperatures increasing soil moisture deficit, therefore intensifying drought conditions. Cycles at the 6–10 year period identify a sub-decadal to decadal signal during drought-rich periods. Analysis of the spatial variability of droughts finds that whilst severe events are predominantly regionally coherent, there are notable variations in severity and duration between sites, which are attributed to localised rainfall variability. This study extends the temporal range of previous drought studies and places recent drought events in a longer context improving upon existing ‘benchmark’ drought analyses in southeast England; with far-reaching implications for local, national and continental scale reduction of drought vulnerability and risk.