When the Water Flow Stops: A Guide to Droughts

A drought is a long period of months or even years when any given area sees a deficiency in the water supply. When an area gets precipitation that is consistently below average, that is when a drought tends to occur. A drought can also have a significant effect on the agriculture and the ecosystem of an impacted region. A drought has the ability to last for several years, yet even a drought that lasts only a short time can have an effect that significantly hurts the local economy. Understanding what a drought is and why it's important to ranchers and agricultural producers so that they can take precautions against it is vital. The following article is a more detailed explanation on droughts and related resources to learn more.

Drought Science

Drought is generally thought to be caused by the reduction of both the quantity of atmospheric water vapor and the upward forcing of water vapor-containing air mass. In turn, that reduction can be caused by winds that carry continental air mass, a frequency of high-pressure systems, and ridges of high-pressure areas. One area where droughts are common is in the Midwest and Australia. One famous way of measuring and monitoring droughts is the NOAA’s Palmer Index, which incorporates rainfall and temperature data to see the severity of dryness at any given time.

Drought Impacts

Environmental, agricultural, social, economic and health consequences are all aspects of a drought. Regions that rely on subsistence farming as an important food source are very vulnerable to drought. Wildfires, wars, mass migration, and malnutrition are just some effects of drought. There are generally three types of drought: a meteorological drought, an agricultural drought, and a hydrological drought.

One of the worst periods of drought in the U.S. was the 1930s period that is known as the Dirty Thirties or the Dust Bowl. This situation was characterized by a series of harsh dust storms that inflicted massive agricultural and ecological damage across Canadian and American prairie lands for six years from 1930 to 1936. Severe drought along with many decades of farming which didn't use crop rotation or other techniques to impede erosion was the cause of the Dust Bowl. As far as states go, Texas has had one of the worst experiences of any state with regards to being hit by droughts. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s was centered on the Texas panhandle, the severe droughts of the 1950s began in the state of Texas, and as recently as both 2008 and 2009, the state once again was the sufferer of extreme drought.

Drought Mitigation

Drought mitigation is a way of preventing or lessening the effects of drought, and this is achieved through four steps: prediction, monitoring, impact assessment and response. Prediction relates to using climate studies, atmosphere models, snow pack surveys, circulation patterns of the oceans and the atmosphere, soil moisture and knowledge of stored water to forecast when a drought may be coming. Monitoring relies on the use of satellites and ground-based information like weather and rainfall data to keep track of an ongoing drought. Impact assessment refers to checking a ground’s stressed conditions, existing infrastructure and the drought’s intensity to make a determination on the drought’s effect on agricultural products, building subsidence and even water quality and quantity. Response is connected with how to improve the reaction to drought, which includes better crop and water management, greater local planning, and improved drought monitoring.

Drought Planning

The concept of drought planning has been in evolution since the early 1980s. Nowadays, the majority of states have plans for future droughts, and the reason they do is because of the great costs that droughts can wreak on the economy, people and agriculture. Preparing for a drought firstly involves having something called a drought management plan, which is a plan that outlines how water service providers plot to reduce the impact of a drought on local communities, once the drought hits. A competent drought management plan is meant to ensure that concerns such as analyzing drought conditions and the drought outlook, the social hardship that drought causes, any environmental losses, and mitigation programs and actions against drought are addressed in a successful and responsible way. Such a drought management plan can be used by ranchers, agricultural producers, homeowners and municipal water suppliers to try to preempt drought. One can even make his or her own drought plan these days by simply going on the Internet and consulting one of the many drought websites that are in existence.