The Lifecycles of Drought: Informing Responses Across Timescales

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 8:30 AM
Roger S Pulwarty, NOAA, Boulder, CO, United States and Siegfried D Schubert, Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, Greenbelt, MD, United States
Drought is a slow-onset hazard that is a normal part of climate. Drought onset and demise are difficult to determine. Impacts are mostly nonstructural, spread over large geographical areas, and can persist long after precipitation deficits end. These factors hinder development of accurate, timely estimates of drought severity and resultant responses. Drivers of drought range from SST anomalies and global scale atmospheric response, through regional forcing and local land-surface feedbacks. Key climatological questions related to drought risk assessment, perception and management include, “Does a drought end by a return to normal precipitation; how much moisture is required and over what period; can the end of a drought be defined by the diminishing impacts e.g. soil moisture, reservoir volumes; will precipitation patterns on which management systems rely, change in the future?”

Effective early warning systems inform strategic responses that anticipate crises and crisis evolution across climate timescales. While such “early information” is critical for defining event onset, it is even more critical for identifying the potential for increases in severity. Many social and economic systems have buffers in place to respond to onset (storage, transfers and purchase of grain) but lack response capabilities as drought intensifies, as buffers are depleted. Throughout the drought lifecycle (and between events), monitoring, research and risk assessments are required to:

  • Map decision-making processes and resource capabilities including degradation of water and ecosystems
  • Place multiple climate and land surface indicators within a consistent triggering framework (e.g. climate and vegetation mapping) before critical thresholds are reached
  • Identify policies and practices that impede or enable the flow of information, through policy gaming and other exercises

The presentation will outline the capabilities and framework needed to ensure improved scientific inputs to preparedness and adaptation. Lessons will be drawn from recent and ongoing events in California, the Midwest, and globally.