Research ArticleCLIMATOLOGY

Amplified warming of droughts in southern United States in observations and model simulations

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Science Advances  01 Aug 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat2380
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat2380


During droughts, low surface moisture may translate surface heating into warming, since excess energy will be converted into sensible heat instead of evaporating as latent heat. Recent concurrent occurrences of droughts and heatwaves have caused compounding ecosystem and societal stresses, which prompted our investigation of whether there has been a shift in temperatures under meteorological drought conditions in the United States. Using historical observations, we detect that droughts have been warming faster than the average climate in the southern and northeastern United States. Climate model projections also show a pronounced warming shift in southern states between the late 20th and 21st centuries. We argue that concurrent changes in vapor pressure deficit and relative humidity influence the amplified warming, modifying interactions between the land surface and the atmosphere. We anticipate that the magnified shift in temperatures will bring more concurrent extremes in the future, exacerbating individual impacts from high temperatures and droughts.

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