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Changing climate trends make assessing and predicting drought more complex

dry, cracked earth

Drought management in the U.S. hinges on the quality of our drought assessments and predictions, an increasing challenge in a changing climate. The United States Drought Monitor (USDM), a key tool for identifying and categorizing droughts since 2000, uses different categories to describe the severity of droughts, such as “moderate,” “severe,” or “extreme.” These categories help decision-makers understand how bad a drought is and what actions might be needed. In a new study published in AGU Advances, scientists examined whether the USDM is keeping up with changes in weather patterns, like precipitation and soil moisture. It is crucial to fully understand these systems because the way we classify and respond to drought impacts agriculture, water management, and emergency planning. This study focused on trends over the past 23 years in regions that often experience drought, like the American West.

The results showed that the most severe drought categories are reported more often than expected based on past weather data, suggesting that the standards used in the USDM to define drought severity may no longer match our current reality. This is likely because changing weather patterns are influenced by global warming and shifts in regional climates. Particularly in the American West, droughts last longer and are more intense, leading to questions about whether the methods used to monitor and classify droughts are still effective. The authors highlight the need to regularly update and revise our methods to classify droughts with the most accurate and up-to-date information. This is crucial for planning and responding effectively to drought conditions. The Climate Program Office’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program and National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) funded this work to improve our understanding of how factors like vegetation impact complex droughts in North America.

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For more information, contact Clara Deck.

Image credit: Pixabay

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