The Northeast United States is a generally wet region that has had substantial increases in mean precipitation over the past decades, but also experiences damaging droughts. We evaluated drought frequency, intensity, and duration trends in the region over the period 1901–2015. We used a dataset of Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI), a measure of water balance based on meteorology that is computed at multiple timescales. It was found that the frequency of droughts decreased over this period, but their average intensity and duration did not show consistent changes. There was an increase in mean SPEI, indicating mostly wetter conditions, but also in an increase in SPEI variance, which kept the likelihood of extremely dry conditions from decreasing as much as would be expected from the wetter mean state. The changes in the SPEI mean and variance, as well as the decrease in drought frequency, were most pronounced for longer timescales. These results are consistent with the paradigm of hydrologic intensification under global warming, where both wet and dry extremes may increase in severity alongside changes in mean precipitation.
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