83rd Annual

Monday, 10 February 2003: 4:30 PM
The North American Drought Monitoring Initiative
Scott Stephens, NOAA/NESDIS/NCDC, Asheville, NC; and J. Lawrimore, R. Heim, and K. Gleason
Drought monitoring has become an integral part of drought planning, preparedness and mitigation efforts at the national, regional and local levels. Drought can develop in all regions of the continent, and its effects can be devastating. Since 1980, major droughts and heat waves within the US alone have resulted in costs exceeding 100 billion dollars (inflation-adjusted), easily becoming one of the most costly weather-related disasters on the continent during that time. The presence of severe to extreme drought in approximately 30% of the US at the beginning of June 2002, heavy agricultural losses, water restrictions and numerous large wildfires throughout much of the Western US are reminders of the devastation that can result from prolonged precipitation deficits.

But in today's global economy the costs and effects of drought often extend beyond international borders. The continuing drought in much of the Southwest US and a prolonged period of drier than normal conditions in Mexico have led to debates about shared water rights between the two countries. And to the north, the multi-year drought in the Northern Rockies and western Great Plains extends well into the agricultural prairies of Canada, dramatically affecting agricultural productivity in two countries that provide much of the world's food production. To better monitor and assess drought conditions on an ongoing basis throughout these three countries, a new continental-scale drought monitoring program is being established on the model of the successful US Drought Monitor. Background information behind the establishment of a North America Drought monitoring program and the mechanisms being implemented to accomplish the goal of operational monthly continental-style drought monitoring are discussed.

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