The magnitude of decadal and multidecadal variability in North American precipitation

Toby R. Ault, Scott ST George

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The authors use singular spectrum analysis to investigate the relative magnitude of decadal to multidecadal (D2M) variability in annual and seasonal precipitation anomalies across North America. In most places, decadal (10-20 yr) or multidecadal (20-50 yr) variability makes up less than 10% of the total variance in either annual or seasonal precipitation, with interannual variability or secular trends having much greater importance. Decadal variability is most prominent (contributing 25%-30% of the total variance) in Minnesota and northern California during winter, and the central Rocky Mountains in autumn. Eastern Québec is the only major region where precipitation exhibits significant variance in the multidecadal band. Precipitation across much of Canada exhibits significant variance at extremely low frequencies (greater than 50 yr), but variability at these time scales cannot be separated from secular trends because of the limited length of instrumental climate records. Decadal signals in the discharge of the Sacramento River and, to a lesser degree, the Colorado River are coherent and in phase with similar signals in regional precipitation. Prominent D2M signals do not resemble the low-frequency components of major climate modes such as ENSO or the PDO, which suggests that this behavior is not a product of a simple linear translation of a single climate forcing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)842-850
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2010

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