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Climatic changes, Precipitation variability -- United States, Atmospheric water vapor -- Environmental aspects


The fraction of land area over the Continental United States experiencing extreme hot and dry conditions has been increasing over the past several decades, consistent with expectation from anthropogenic climate change. A clear concurrent change in precipitation, however, has not been confirmed. Vapor pressure deficit (VPD), combining temperature and humidity, is utilized here as an indicator of the background atmospheric conditions associated with meteorological drought. Furthermore, atmospheric conditions associated with warm season drought events are assessed by partitioning associated VPD anomalies into the temperature and humidity components. This approach suggests that the concurrence of anomalously high temperature and low humidity was an important driver of the rapid development and evolution of the exceptionally severe 2011 Texas and the 2012 Great Plains droughts. By classification of a decade of extreme drought events and tracking them back in time, it was found that near surface atmospheric temperature and humidity add essential information to the commonly used precipitation-based drought indicators and can advance efforts to determine the timing of drought onset and its severity.


Copyright 2015 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (



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