Is an Epic Pluvial Masking the Water Insecurity of the Greater New York City Region?

Pederson, Neil; Bell, Andrew R.; Cook, Edward R.; Lall, Upmanu; Devineni, Naresh; Seager, Richard; Eggleston, Keith; Vranes, Kevin P.

Six water emergencies have occurred since 1981 for the New York City (NYC) region despite the following: 1) its perhumid climate, 2) substantial conservation of water since 1979, and 3) meteorological data showing little severe or extreme drought since 1970. This study reconstructs 472 years of moisture availability for the NYC watershed to place these emergencies in long-term hydroclimatic context. Using nested reconstruction techniques, 32 tree-ring chronologies comprised of 12 species account for up to 66.2% of the average May–August Palmer drought severity index. Verification statistics indicate good statistical skill from 1531 to 2003. The use of multiple tree species, including rarely used species that can sometimes occur on mesic sites like Liriodendron tulipifera, Betula lenta, and Carya spp., seems to aid reconstruction skill. Importantly, the reconstruction captures pluvial events in the instrumental record nearly as well as drought events and is significantly correlated to precipitation over much of the northeastern United States. While the mid-1960s drought is a severe drought in the context of the new reconstruction, the region experienced repeated droughts of similar intensity, but greater duration during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The full record reveals a trend toward more pluvial conditions since ca. 1800 that is accentuated by an unprecedented 43-yr pluvial event that continues through 2011. In the context of the current pluvial, decreasing water usage, but increasing extra-urban pressures, it appears that the water supply system for the greater NYC region could be severely stressed if the current water boom shifts toward hydroclimatic regimes like the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

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Journal of Climate

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