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Variability patterns of the annual frequency and timing of low streamflow days across the United States and their linkage to regional and large‐scale climate

Pournasiri Poshtiri, Maryam, Pal, Indrani, Lall, Upmanu, Naveau, Philippe, Towler, Erin
Hydrological processes 2019 v.33 no.11 pp. 1569-1578
algorithms, autumn, climate, cold season, ecosystems, prediction, rivers, stream flow, streams, summer, surface water temperature, Atlantic Ocean, Eastern United States, Western United States
Low‐flow events can cause significant impacts to river ecosystems and water‐use sectors; as such, it is important to understand their variability and drivers. In this study, we characterise the variability and timing of annual total frequency of low‐streamflow days across a range of headwater streams within the continental United States. To quantify this, we use a metric that counts the annual number of low‐flow days below a given threshold, defined as the cumulative dry days occurrence (CDO). First, we identify three large clusters of stream gauge locations using a Partitioning Around Medoids (PAM) clustering algorithm. In terms of timing, results reveal that for most clusters, the majority of low‐streamflow days occur from the middle of summer until early fall, although several locations in Central and Western United States also experience low‐flow days in cold seasons. Further, we aim to identify the regional climate and larger scale drivers for these low‐streamflow days. Regionally, we find that precipitation deficits largely associate with low‐streamflow days in the Western United States, whereas within the Central and Eastern U.S. clusters, high temperature indicators are also linked to low‐streamflow days. In terms of larger scale, we examine sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies, finding that extreme dry years exhibit a high degree of co‐occurrence with different patterns of warmer SST anomalies across the Pacific and Northern Atlantic Oceans. The linkages identified with regional climate and SSTs offer promise towards regional prediction of changing conditions of low‐streamflow events.