9 Views of the 2016 Northern Plains Flash Drought: Farmer Perspectives and Remote Sensing Data

Monday, 8 January 2018
Exhibit Hall 3 (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Tonya Haigh, National Drought Mitigation Center, Lincoln, NE; and J. A. Otkin and A. Mucia

Extreme drought events across the U.S. in recent years have led to large societal impacts and lower agricultural productivity. Though drought is often thought of as being a slowly developing climate phenomenon that takes many months to reach its full intensity, recent events across the central U.S. have shown that its onset can be very rapid if extreme weather anomalies remain over the same area for periods as short as a few weeks. These flash droughts can impact agriculture more severely than a slower developing but longer lasting drought because there is less time to prepare for its adverse effects when it develops so quickly. Drought early warning during these rapidly evolving situations, however, is difficult to obtain using existing operational drought forecasting products that tend to focus on seasonal time scales and are only updated at monthly intervals. Because the satellite-derived Evaporative Stress Index (ESI) responds quickly to increasing moisture stress, its inclusion in the drought analysis and forecasting process may improve the accuracy of drought predictions.

A severe flash drought event occurred across the Northern Plains in 2016, affecting farmers and ranchers in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Nebraska. Through a NOAA-SARP funded project as well as support of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), we conducted a probabilistic random sample survey of agricultural stakeholders who experienced the drought event. The sampling frame included respondents who experienced a range of drought severities in 2016, from those who experienced only abnormal dryness (D0, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor) to those who experienced extreme drought (D3). Through the survey, we gathered information about farmers’ perceptions of the drought’s severity and timing of impacts. We also gathered information about practices farmers used to manage drought risk and their use of climate or drought monitoring information to make decisions during drought.

Survey data was spatially compared with the ESI, which depicts standardized anomalies in evapotranspiration, weekly changes in the ESI anomalies, and a new drought metric known as the Rapid Change Index (RCI) that encapsulates the anomalous rate of moisture stress change during the full duration of a rapid change event. Resulting maps will show where farmer perceptions and remote sensing data align, and correlations between rapid change in drought severity and farmers risk management actions and impacts of drought. Findings will inform discussion of the opportunities to link environmental observations with social and economic data to generate information and provide insights to improve assessments of food security challenges and enhance agricultural practices.

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