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Hydro-Climatological Drought Analyses and Projections Using Meteorological and Hydrological Drought Indices: A Case Study in Blue River Basin, Oklahoma

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Understanding the characteristics of historical droughts will benefit water resource managers because it will reveal the possible impacts that future changes in climate may have on drought, and subsequently, the availability of water resources. The goal of this study was to reconstruct historical drought occurrences and assess future drought risk for the drought-prone Blue River Basin in Oklahoma, under a likely changing climate using three types of drought indices, i.e., Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and Standardized Runoff Index (SRI). No similar research has been conducted in this region previously. Monthly precipitation and temperature data from the observational period 1950–1999 and over the projection period 2010–2099 from 16 statistically downscaled Global Climate Models (GCM) were used to compute the duration, severity, and extent of meteorological droughts. Additionally, soil moisture, evapotranspiration (ET), and runoff data from the well-calibrated Thornthwaite Monthly Water Balance Model were used to examine drought from a hydrological perspective. The results show that the three indices captured the historical droughts for the past 50 years and suggest that more severe droughts of wider extent are very likely to occur over the next 90 years in the Blue River Basin, especially in the later part of the 21st century. In fact, all three indices display lower minimum values than those ever recorded in the past 50 years. This study also found that SRI and SPI (PDSI) had a correlation coefficient of 0.81 (0.78) with a 2-month (no appreciable) lag time over the 1950–2099 time period across the basin. There was relatively lower correlation between SPI and PDSI over the same period. Although this study recommends that PDSI and SRI are the most suitable indices for assessing future drought risks under an increasingly warmer climate, more drought indices from ecological and socioeconomic perspectives should be investigated and compared to provide a complete picture of drought and its potential impacts on the dynamically coupled nature-human system.

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This research is funded by the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP; through a grant from the NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment Program. We thank the National Weather Center for computing resources and acknowledge our colleagues in Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing Laboratory ( for their technical support. In addition, we acknowledge the modeling groups, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) and the WCRP's Working Group on Coupled Modeling (WGCM) for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP3 multi-model dataset. Support of this dataset is provided by the Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy. Also, we acknowledge the PRISM Climate Group for providing PRISM precipitation data.

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Correspondence to Yang Hong.

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Liu, L., Hong, Y., Bednarczyk, C.N. et al. Hydro-Climatological Drought Analyses and Projections Using Meteorological and Hydrological Drought Indices: A Case Study in Blue River Basin, Oklahoma. Water Resour Manage 26, 2761–2779 (2012).

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