Anomalous North Pacific atmospheric circulation and large winter floods in the Southwestern United States

Ely, LL, Enzel Y, Cayan DR.  1994.  Anomalous North Pacific atmospheric circulation and large winter floods in the Southwestern United States. Journal of Climate. 7:977-987.

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arizona, california, climate-change, el-nino, enso, patterns, precipitation, southern oscillation, temperature, variability


Specific anomalous atmospheric circulation conditions over the North Pacific are conducive to the occurrence of the largest winter floods (greater-than-or-equal-to 10-yr return period) on rivers in six hydroclimatic subregions of Arizona and southern Utah, Nevada, and California. Composite maps of anomalies in daily 700-mb heights indicate that floods in all of the subregions are associated with a low pressure anomaly off the California coast and a high-pressure anomaly in the vicinity of either Alaska or the Aleutian Islands. Of these two major circulation features, the presence of the low is the controlling factor in determining whether large floods will occur. Shifts in the locations of the low and high pressure anomalies over the North Pacific appear to control which subregions experience floods, with high-elevation topographic features and proximity to air masses forming a major influence over the specific atmospheric circulation conditions that generate large floods in each hydroclimatic region. Concerning the interannual variability of flooding in the Southwest, there is an increased frequency of large winter floods during multiple-year periods dominated by negative SOI and a virtual absence of large floods during the intervening periods. This suggests that global-scale climatic anomalies exert a strong influence on the occurrence of severe regional winter floods.