Ross McKitrick and John Christy have published a new paper in the Journal of Hydrology.
McKitrick, Ross R. and John Christy (2019) Assessing Changes in US Regional Precipitation on Multiple Time Scales Journal of Hydrology vol. 578 Nov 2019, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2019.124074
The published version is temporarily available at this link. If that does not work a pre-print is available here. The Supplement is here. We look at the claim (made by the recent US National Climate Assessment) that US precipitation increased over the 20th century, that precipitation extremes did likewise and that confidence is high that this is due to greenhouse gases. We discuss 2,000 year drought proxies that reveal Hurst behaviour (long term persistence) which means spurious trend detection is a risk.
We estimate trends in US regional precipitation on multiple time spans and scales relevant to the detection of changes in climatic regimes. A large literature has shown that trend estimation in hydrological series may be affected by long-term persistence (LTP) and selection of sample length. We show that 2000-year proxy-based reconstructions of the Palmer Modified Drought Index for the US Southeast (SE) and Pacific Coast (PC) regions exhibit LTP and reveal post- 1900 changes to be within the range of longer-term natural fluctuations. We also use a new data base of daily precipitation records for 20 locations (10 PC and 10 SE) extending back in many cases to the 1870s. Over the 1901–2017 interval upward trends in some measures of average and extreme precipitation appear, but they are not consistently significant and in the full records back to 1872 they largely disappear. They also disappear or reverse in the post-1978 portion of the data set, which is inconsistent with them being responses to enhanced greenhouse gas forcing. We conclude that natural variability is likely the dominant driver of historical changes in precipitation and hence drought dynamics in the US SE and PC.