Digging Deeper Into Flash Droughts

Digging Deeper Into Flash Droughts

Article written by Courtney Byrd, MAPP Program Assistant

Drought monitoring has become a leading study in the environmental and economic sectors as drought monitoring can mitigate crop losses, monitor vegetation health, and provide crucial information for increased fire risk. Identifying rapidly evolving and severe “flash drought’ conditions is especially useful. The meteorological term flash drought is defined as an unusually rapid drying of land. Commonly linked to a lack of precipitation, rapid drying of the land can also form due to high evapotranspiration (ET) rates from abnormally high temperatures, high incoming radiation, and other meteorological variables. In a new Journal of Hydrometeorology article, Hailan Wang and authors Randal D. Koster, Gerald Schubert, Sarith Mahanama, and Anthony M. DeAngelis, analyze how precipitation and ET anomalies are linked to flash drought formation in the Northern Hemisphere. They found that only a fraction of flash drought formations originated exclusively from ET anomalies linked to temperature and radiation abnormalities. Overall, in the central United States and parts of Russia, ET’s contribution to flash droughts is relatively small in comparison to precipitation deficiency. Although flash droughts were identified on several continents, it is noted that in North America most of the droughts are seen in the Southern Great Plains, with particularly large numbers located in Texas.

This study was supported by the Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (MAPP) Program as part of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS).


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The Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program is a competitive research program in NOAA Research's Climate Program Office. MAPP's mission is to enhance the Nation's and NOAA's capability to understand, predict, and project variability and long-term changes in Earth's system and mitigate human and economic impacts. To achieve its mission, MAPP supports foundational research, transition of research to applications, and engagement across other parts of NOAA, among partner agencies, and with the external research community. MAPP plays a crucial role in enabling national preparedness for extreme events like drought and longer-term climate changes. For more information, please visit www.cpo.noaa.gov/MAPP.

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