615 The Southern Plains' Drought of 2011 and 2012: An Analytical Comparison

Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Exhibit Hall 3 (Austin Convention Center)
Monica O'Brien Deming, Oklahoma Climatological Survey, Norman, OK; and G. McManus

As climatological impacts reach the forefront of societal interests, a thorough understanding of climate becomes increasingly more pertinent. Among the multiple components of climatology, drought has become the vanguard of issues. Whether the impacts are considered direct or indirect, no state in a drought-ridden nation goes unscathed. The years 2011 and 2012 rank among the top worst drought episodes in history, with the Southern Plains being notably hard hit. Due to the historical mark these two events will leave in the drought records, it is important to understand the severity, driving mechanisms, and impacts associated with them. Which year experienced the worst of it and why? Why were the frequency and magnitude of impacts greater in 2011 when a larger percent of the United States was experiencing a drought in 2012?

To best answer these questions, an analytical comparison was done for the Southern Plains' droughts of 2011 and 2012. To run the comparison, qualitative and quantitative approaches were taken. More specifically, a statistical comparison was completed by referencing the U.S. Palmer Drought Index, the Standardized Precipitation Index, and the Vegetation Drought Response Index. The latter was analyzed in conjunction with a variety of climatological and meteorological parameters, including temperature, soil moisture, evapotranspiration, precipitation, La Niña conditions, and the Arctic Oscillation. Finally, societal impacts were evaluated via the U.S. Drought Impact Reporter, state and county-wide official declarations of emergencies, and economical standings. Findings suggest that the most severe drought effects were present in 2011, with record maximum temperatures and a highly beleaguered crop and economical season. In addition, the shift in the Arctic Oscillation, early spring rains, and diminishing La Niña conditions can help account for the late onset of drought in 2012.

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