About halfway through 2021 and much of the southwest is experiencing some form of drought conditions.
It's an issue that has plagued the Golden State year after year, impacting a variety of sectors of industry, the environment, and daily life.
WHAT IS A DROUGHT?
Drought is considered a deficit of precipitation over a long period of time, resulting in a shortage of water, according to the NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System.
But this definition can vary by region and reflecting the needs and approaches of said region. Depending on whether a region defines a drought as a concept or idea, or an operational function, that can impact how areas respond to droughts and address them.
FIVE TYPES OF DROUGHT
According to NOAA, scientists have come to define and monitor droughts in five different categories:
Meteorological: When a dry weather pattern dominates the area, leading to drought-like conditions.
Hydrological: When low water supply becomes clearly observed in an area's water system.
Agricultural: When a region's crops become impacted by drought conditions.
Socioeconomic: When the supply and demand of commodities are impacted by drought conditions.
Ecological: When natural ecosystems in a region are impacted by drought.
As you can expect, droughts can have far-reaching and devastating impacts.
The first impact that many will notice is on agriculture. Drought can reduce the amount of water available that's needed for farms and crops. What many may not expect: it can also lead to insect outbreaks, in addition to wildfire and altering the Earth's water cycle.
Public health is also impacted. Decreased water quantity and quality, increased illness and disease, adverse mental health outcomes, and increased mortality can all result from droughts.
Transportation can be impacted as higher temperatures due to drought can impact roadways, runways, and rail lines. Supply chains also rely on waterways, which can fall victim to severe drought.
Drought can alter and degrade critical functions and operations of the ecosystem, like reducing plant regrowth, threatening local plant species, and prompting landscapes to transition — like a forest becoming grassland.
Wildfire is something Californians know all too well. Drought conditions, brought on by hot, dry, and sometimes windy weather, can dry out vegetation and increase the likelihood of fire.
Droughts also adversely impact water quality. Decreased water levels, warmer temperatures, and soil runoff can lead to algae growth, lower oxygen levels, and more suspended materials in water, all of which can pose a threat to humans and marine life.
WHY IT'S DIFFICULT TO PREDICT DROUGHTS
Droughts come about slowly, so it's difficult to predict a drought event in the same way that meteorologists can predict and monitor hurricanes, tornadoes, or severe weather.
Droughts also differ region to region, so California's droughts may not be exactly the same as a drought elsewhere in the country.
Scientists do their best to monitor drought conditions through a variety of regional changes. An important way to monitor drought is to track precipitation, temperature, streamflow, ground and reservoir water levels, soil moisture, and snowpack. Tracking these indicators can help researchers predict the severity, location, timing, and duration of drought and the expected impact locally.
According to the NOAA, scientists historically only used one indicator to monitor drought. But considering several indicators like the ones above have become more important to develop a clearer picture of drought and its severity in a region.
Source: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Integrated Drought Information System