Variability and predictability of North American runoff


Maurer, E.P., Lettenmaier, D.P., Mantua, N.J. 2004. Variability and predictability of North American runoff. Water Resources Research 40, W09306, doi:10.1029/2003WR002789.


Understanding the space-time variability of runoff has important implications for climate because of the linkage of runoff and evapotranspiration and is a practical concern as well for the prediction of drought and floods. In contrast to many studies investigating the space-time variability of precipitation and temperature, there has been relatively little work evaluating climate teleconnections of runoff, in part because of the absence of data sets that lend themselves to commonly used techniques in climate analysis like principal components analysis.

We examine the space-time variability of runoff over North America using a 50-year retrospective spatially distributed data set of runoff and other land surface water cycle variables predicted using a calibrated macroscale hydrology model, thus avoiding some shortcomings of past studies based more directly on streamflow observations. We determine contributions to runoff variability of climatic teleconnections, soil moisture, and snow for lead times up to a year. High and low values of these sources of predictability are evaluated separately. We identify patterns of runoff variability that are not revealed by direct analysis of observations, especially in areas of sparse stream gauge coverage.

The presence of nonlinear relationships between large-scale climate changes and runoff pattern variability, as positive and negative values of the large-scale climate indices rarely show opposite teleconnections with a runoff pattern. Dry soil moisture anomalies have a stronger influence on runoff variability than wet soil. Snow, and more so soil moisture, in many locations enhance the predictability due to climatic teleconnections.