ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE: Empirical evidence of contrasting soil moisture-precipitation feedbacks across the United States

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Soil moisture influences fluxes of heat and moisture originating at the land surface, thus altering atmospheric humidity and temperature profiles. However, empirical and modeling studies disagree on how this affects the propensity for precipitation, mainly owing to the difficulty in establishing causality. We use Granger causality to estimate the relationship between soil moisture and occurrence of subsequent precipitation over the contiguous United States using remotely sensed soil moisture and gauge-based precipitation observations. After removing potential confounding effects of daily persistence, and seasonal and interannual variability in precipitation, we find that soil moisture anomalies significantly influence rainfall probabilities over 38% of the area with a median factor of 13%. The feedback is generally positive in the west and negative in the east, suggesting dependence on regional aridity.

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