A link between the hiatus in global warming and North American drought

Thomas L. Delworth, Fanrong Zeng, Anthony Rosati, Gabriel Andres Vecchi, Andrew T. Wittenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Portions of western North America have experienced prolonged drought over the last decade. This drought has occurred at the same time as the global warming hiatus-a decadal period with little increase in global mean surface temperature. Climate models and observational analyses are used to clarify the dual role of recent tropical Pacific changes in driving both the global warming hiatus and North American drought. When observed tropical Pacific wind stress anomalies are inserted into coupled models, the simulations produce persistent negative sea surface temperature anomalies in the eastern tropical Pacific, a hiatus in global warming, and drought over North America driven by SST-induced atmospheric circulation anomalies. In the simulations herein the tropical wind anomalies account for 92% of the simulated North American drought during the recent decade, with 8% from anthropogenic radiative forcing changes. This suggests that anthropogenic radiative forcing is not the dominant driver of the current drought, unless the wind changes themselves are driven by anthropogenic radiative forcing. The anomalous tropical winds could also originate from coupled interactions in the tropical Pacific or from forcing outside the tropical Pacific. The model experiments suggest that if the tropical winds were to return to climatological conditions, then the recent tendency toward North American drought would diminish. Alternatively, if the anomalous tropical winds were to persist, then the impact on North American drought would continue; however, the impact of the enhanced Pacific easterlies on global temperature diminishes after a decade or two due to a surface reemergence of warmer water that was initially subducted into the ocean interior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3834-3845
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Anthropogenic effects
  • Atmosphere-ocean interaction
  • Drought
  • Pacific decadal oscillation
  • Teleconnections
  • Wind stress


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