Hydrologic Drought in the Colorado River Basin

J. Timilsena
T. C. Piechota, University of Nevada Las Vegas
H. Hidalgo
G. Tootle

Presented at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, December 13-17, 2004, San Francisco, California.


This paper focuses on drought scenarios of the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) for the last five hundred years and evaluates the magnitude, severity and frequency of the current five-year drought. Hydrologic drought characteristics have been developed using the historical streamflow data and tree ring chronologies in the UCRB. Historical data include the Colorado River at Cisco and Lees Ferry, Green River, Palmer Hydrologic Drought Index (PHDI), and the Z index. Three ring chronologies were used from 17 spatially representative sites in the UCRB from NOAA's International Tree Ring Data. A PCA based regression model procedures was used to reconstruct drought indices and streamflow in the UCRB. Hydrologic drought is characterized by its duration (duration in year in which cumulative deficit is continuously below thresholds), deficit magnitude (the cumulative deficit below the thresholds for consecutive years), severity (magnitude divided by the duration) and frequency. Results indicate that the current drought ranks anywhere from the 5th to 20th worst drought during the period 1493-2004, depending on the drought indicator and magnitude. From a short term perspective (using annual data), the current drought is more severe than if longer term average (i.e., 5 or 10 year averages) are used to define the drought.