92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Monday, 23 January 2012: 11:45 AM
Drought When It's Not Obvious
Room 352 (New Orleans Convention Center )
Laura M. Edwards, DRI, Reno, NV; and K. T. Redmond

The stereotypical picture of drought consists of dessicated plants and deeply furrowed clay in the bottom of dried ponds. In this circumstance there is no question of drought. However, not all droughts can be so readily discerned. The greatest impacts likely result when the primary recharge season is deficient in precipitation. In such settings the consequences may be immediate or delayed. If the background climatology is dominated by a single precipitation season, such as winter along the West Coast or summer in the Midwest, the loss of that season or even of a portion can have long lasting effects. The opportunity for relief may not develop until the same season next year. In the Midwest, the effects of summer drought, which coincide with peak temperature, are experienced nearly immediately. Along the West Coast, the effects of winter drought are not really experienced until spring and summer. In regions with nearly constant monthly precipitation, significant drought can occur at almost any time of year, though the summer demand season leads to consequences more rapidly. This is readily understood when we view drought as a sustained imbalance of supply minus demand that eventually uses up existing water buffers. In climates without pronounced precipitation seasonality, there are many opportunities for relief. Drought generally has to be described in terms pertinent to the regional climate. There are many associated issues of perception, especially if there is a desire to affect public attitudes about current water status, or to change behavior regarding water use on a temporary or more permanent basis. Droughts in dry climates are a particular challenge. When is drought considered to be present in perpetually dry or arid climates? Another and opposite challenge arises in very wet climates. A winter drought in the Pacific Northwest may be “wet” by many standards, the landscape may appear very green, the inadequate snowpack may not be visually apparent, and the true consequences will not be felt for some months until the warm season arrives. In some climates, there may be two or three seasonal peaks, very often with different causes, and different ties to larger circulation patterns. Therefore, a given circulation anomaly may not affect all precipitation seasons in a similar way. Finally, in complex terrain there are often rather different precipitation climates that are closely juxtaposed in space. Colorado is an excellent example, with precipitation peaks in at least ten different months. In this case, and with multiple sources of moisture and precipitation generation mechanisms, it is harder to find droughts that are both large in space and lengthy in time. All of these issues produce problems in perception and depiction. A robust description and depiction system should be able to begin with primary measured quantities and express combinations of the observations in ways tailored to each desired application.

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