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Droughts, floods, and wildfire

M. F. Wehner, J. R. Arnold, T. Knutson, K. E. Kunkel, A. N. LeGrande

edited by: D. J. Wuebbles, D. W. Fahey, K. A. Hibbard, D. J. Dokken, B. C. Stewart, T. K. Maycock



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Key findings.
1 ▹ Recent droughts and associated heat waves have reached record intensity in some regions of the United States; however, by geographical scale and duration, the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s remains the benchmark drought and extreme heat event in the historical record (very high confidence). While by some measures drought has decreased over much of the continental United States in association with long-term increases in precipitation, neither the precipitation increases nor inferred drought decreases have been confidently attributed to anthropogenic forcing.
2 ▹ The human effect on recent major U.S. droughts is complicated. Little evidence is found for a human influence on observed precipitation deficits, but much evidence is found for a human influence on surface soil moisture deficits due to increased evapotranspiration caused by higher temperatures. (High confidence)
3 ▹ Future decreases in surface (top 10 cm) soil moisture from anthropogenic forcing over most of the United States are likely as the climate warms under higher scenarios. (Medium confidence)
4 ▹ Substantial reductions in western U.S. winter and spring snowpack are projected as the climate warms. Earlier spring melt and reduced snow water equivalent have been formally attributed to human-induced warming (high confidence) and will very likely be exacerbated as the climate continues to warm (very high confidence). Under higher scenarios, and assuming no change to current water resources management, chronic, long-duration hydrological drought is increasingly possible by the end of this century (very high confidence).
5 ▹ Detectable changes in some classes of flood frequency have occurred in parts of the United States and are a mix of increases and decreases. Extreme precipitation, one of the controlling factors in flood statistics, is observed to have generally increased and is projected to continue to do so across the United States in a warming atmosphere. However, formal attribution approaches have not established a significant connection of increased riverine flooding to human-induced climate change, and the timing of any emergence of a future detectable anthropogenic change in flooding is unclear. (Medium confidence)
6 ▹ The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s (high confidence) and is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate warms, with profound changes to certain ecosystems (medium confidence).


In Climate science special report: fourth national climate assessment, volume I (2017), pp. 231-253, https://doi.org/10.7930/J0CJ8BNN 
Key: INRMM:14539498

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