13th Conference on Applied Climatology and the 10th Conference on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology

Wednesday, 15 May 2002: 9:00 AM
The value of real-time mesoscale observations to early recognition and rapid response to short-term drought
Derek S. Arndt, Oklahoma Climatological Survey, Norman, OK; and H. L. Johnson
Poster PDF (375.3 kB)
Since the commissioning of the Oklahoma Mesonet in March 1994, three short but intense dry spells have impacted Oklahoma’s residents and economy. These episodes occurred during the winter of 1995-96, summer 1998, and late-summer 2000. Their durations varied from ten weeks to ten months. Significant wildfire outbreaks accompanied each episode, and each dry spell severely damaged one or more of Oklahoma’s crops. However, because rainfall during the interim periods was well above normal, the dry events were masked by normal and above-normal annual rainfall statistics. A fourth episode beginning summer 2001 continued to impact western Oklahoma as of December 2001.

Oklahoma Mesonet data allowed the real-time observation of these events on the mesoscale, including the advent of real-time soil moisture data by the third episode. Mesonet information was incorporated into the state’s drought response plan, which was written in the wake of the 1995-96 episode. With improvements in the dissemination of Mesonet data, confidence grew in the instrumentation and in the interpretation of data. As a result, state officials were able to monitor the evolution of successive episodes increasingly well. Local, state and national media outlets (including the U.S. Drought Monitor Project) had real-time access to evolving drought statistics and assessment during each episode. This enabled quicker recognition of, and response to, drought conditions across the state.

The state’s official drought plan precipitated from the 1995-96 episode. The availability of quality data shaped the plan’s flexibility and responsiveness. Responsibilities before, during and after drought episodes are shared between several agencies. Real-time access to mesoscale drought statistics and assessment serves as an integral component in meeting many of these responsibilities. Efficient use of data served as an important connector between evolving conditions, decision-makers, media and the public.

This paper will present the impact of, recognition of, and response to each episode. Particular focus will be given to the utility of a real-time mesoscale observing network to such efforts.

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