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Investigation of Springtime Cloud Influence on Regional Climate and Its Implication in Runoff Decline in Upper Colorado River Basin

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The subseasonal features of the annual trends of runoff and other associated hydroclimatic variables in the upper Colorado River basin (UCRB) are examined using multiple data sets from in situ observations, reanalysis, and modeling for early spring (February, March, and April), given that about 58% of annual mean runoff decline from 1980 to 2018 stem from its decreases in the three months. Our analysis suggests that the strong annual trends of hydroclimatic variables in March are more statistically significant than other two months. While recent observational studies attribute the decline of runoff for either annual total or cool and warm seasons to regional warming and precipitation decrease, we suggested, for the first time, that a larger decreasing trend of the runoff in March is caused by the declining cloud optical depth which induces further decrease in precipitation and additional increase in temperature on top of climatic warming. The extra warming can reduce available water resource in the basin likely by enhancing evaporation in March. The recent cloud suppression likely results from stronger subsidence and larger moisture flux divergence over southwestern United States because of abnormal circulation patterns in varying climate, in turn leading to drier atmosphere which is unfavorable for cloud formation/development over the UCRB region. The cloud influence on the runoff in March in the UCRB revealed in this study implies the importance of understanding subseasonal variations of hydroclimate in the changing climate, as well as a need of future studies on the response of circulation patterns to climate change at subseasonal level and its implication on local hydroclimate.

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