A method of evaluating effects of antecedent precipitation on duststorms and its application to Yuma, Arizona, 1981-1988

David J. Mackinnon, Diana F. Elder, Paula J. Helm, Marlene F. Tuesink, Catherine A. Nist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Precipitation causes several short- and long-term effects on wind-induced surface erodibility and subsequent dust emission. Among the principal effects considered by this paper are soil moisture, soil crusts, and vegetation. A quantitative method is developed to assess these effects using differences between the potential and the actual amounts of dust emitted from dust sources as inferred from surface meteorological measurements obtained downwind from those sources. The results of this assessment must be interpreted with caution, however, when the size and location of dust sources are unknown. Using meteorological data recorded near Yuma, Arizona at the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station (YMCAS), the method is applied to calculate the potential and actual amounts of dust emitted from upwind dust sources during the spring and fall/winter seasons between January 1, 1981 and May 31, 1988. (Spring is considered to be the period between February 1 and May 31; fall/winter, between October 1 and January 31.) Because summer precipitation is intermittent and wind patterns are localized, summer meteorological data are not used to evaluate regional correlations between precipitation and dust storms. For the period between 1981 and 1988, a correlation of -0.60 was found between fall/winter precipitation and the actual amount of dust emitted from sources upwind of YMCAS during the following spring. A particularly strong reduction in dust emission was noted during the springs of 1983 and 1984 following the start of an 'El Nino event' in fall/winter 1982. Photographs taken at a geological and meteorological data-collection (Geomet) site, located in the natural desert 25 km southeast of YMCAS, show a correspondence between increased antecedent precipitation recorded at the site and increased vegetation. Whereas the annual precipitation totals at YMCAS and the Geomet site from the beginning of 1982 through 1984 are high, their seasonal totals, especially during the fall/winter seasons, are disparate. This fall/winter precipitation disparity may account for evidence suggesting that significant vegetation growth occurred at dust sources upwind of YMCAS by spring 1983, but that such growth did not occur at the Geomet site until fall/ winter of 1983. Spatial inhomogeneity in fall/winter precipitation probably contributed to the relatively low correlation (-0.60) between fall/winter precipitation recorded at YMCAS and the actual amount of dust emitted from upwind sources during the following spring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-360
Number of pages30
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Dec 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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