A Journey into the Past: Investigating Extremes of California’s Climate

Project Team: California Climate Team
Team Location: NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina; and NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia

Monthly precipitation over Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins study area. Image Credit: Eleanor Davis.

Monthly precipitation over Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins study area. Image Credit: Eleanor Davis.

Lance Watkins, Project Lead (Mississippi State University)
Eleanor Davis (George Washington University)
Ashley Mendenhall (Western Carolina University)
Anja Nothdurft (Western Carolina University)

Dr. DeWayne Cecil (Global Science and Technology, Inc.)
Dr. Carl Schreck (North Carolina State University Cooperative Institute for Climate Science)
Dr. Kenton Ross (NASA DEVELOP, National Science Advisor)

California’s population grew by over 10 million from 1980 to 2000 and is expected to reach a total of 48 million by 2030. This will create additional strain on a water supply already stretched by severe, prolonged droughts that are expected to become more frequent in the region due to the progression of anthropogenic climate change. The ability to anticipate precipitation for the coming seasons can help water resource managers make decisions and mitigate the effects of seasonal anomalies such as droughts. Due to the need for better predictive abilities for water resources, this project aimed to improve the utility of seasonal climate outlooks through analysis of past climatic signals. Compared to forecasts with shorter lead times, seasonal forecasts have the least level of skill and are often considered the most challenging to predict. Therefore, this project incorporated National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Data Records (CDRs), NASA satellite data, and in-situ data to correlate with atmospheric teleconnection indices during seasons with anomalous precipitation (i.e. flooding or drought). The seasons were defined using past observations from the National Climatic Data Center’s Global Historical Climatology Network in California Climate Divisions 2 and 5. A secondary product of this project was a compilation of survey results from water resource managers that describes the degree to which seasonal forecasts, as well as NOAA CDRs and NASA Earth observations, are currently used for decision-making. Results of this project will potentially aid California resource managers and policy-makers in preparing for and mitigating the impacts of future anomalous precipitation seasons. This project will also assist forecast producers and agencies such as NOAA and NASA in tailoring satellite data products and seasonal climate outlooks to water resource managers’ needs.


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