Increased drought severity tracks warming in the United States' largest river basin

Justin T. Martin, Gregory T. Pederson, Connie A. Woodhouse, Edward R. Cook, Gregory J. McCabe, Kevin J. Anchukaitis, Erika K. Wise, Patrick J. Erger, Larry Dolan, Marketa McGuire, Subhrendu Gangopadhyay, Katherine J. Chase, Jeremy S. Littell, Stephen T. Gray, Scott St George, Jonathan M. Friedman, David J. Sauchyn, Jeannine Marie St-Jacques, John King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Across the Upper Missouri River Basin, the recent drought of 2000 to 2010, known as the "turn-of-the-century drought," was likely more severe than any in the instrumental record including the Dust Bowl drought. However, until now, adequate proxy records needed to better understand this event with regard to long-term variability have been lacking. Here we examine 1,200 y of streamflow from a network of 17 new tree-ring-based reconstructions for gages across the upper Missouri basin and an independent reconstruction of warm-season regional temperature in order to place the recent drought in a long-term climate context. We find that temperature has increasingly influenced the severity of drought events by decreasing runoff efficiency in the basin since the late 20th century (1980s) onward. The occurrence of extreme heat, higher evapotranspiration, and associated low-flow conditions across the basin has increased substantially over the 20th and 21st centuries, and recent warming aligns with increasing drought severities that rival or exceed any estimated over the last 12 centuries. Future warming is anticipated to cause increasingly severe droughts by enhancing water deficits that could prove challenging for water management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number11328
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - May 26 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. Research support provided through the NSF Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change (P2C2) Program (Grants 1404188, 1403957, 1403102, and 1401549), NSF Grant 1803995, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (Grant 1049562), the Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP), the US Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART Program (Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow), the state of Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (contribution number 8398), the USGS Powell Center for Synthesis and Analysis, the USGS Land Resources Mission Area, and the North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center. Coordination of GRIP at USGS is through the Youth and Education in Science programs within the Office of Science Quality and Integrity. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Drought severity
  • Precipitation
  • Streamflow
  • Temperature
  • Water resources

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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