Short-Term Drought Prediction May Help Communities

May 29, 1998

Boston, Mass. -- The ability to predict drought one to several seasons in advance, may save water resource planners and farmers billions of dollars, according to a team of Penn State researchers.

These researchers developed a computer model that can predict reliably the severity and timing of drought episodes six months in the future.

"Farmers would find it useful to have drought predictions in the spring for three or six months later," says Kelly Brennan, recent recipient of a Penn State master's degree in civil engineering. "Farmers could then change the crop they plant for something that is more late-summer drought tolerant."

One suggestion would be to plant crops with deeper root systems.

"Another important area, especially in the Ohio River Basin where we worked, is the need to maintain adequate river levels for barge traffic," Brennan told attendees at the spring meeting of the American Geophysical Union today (May 29) in Boston.

The normal practice is to lower reservoirs in winter and early spring to create enough storage capacity to retain excessive spring runoff that would otherwise cause flooding downstream. This practice can have very harmful consequences in years of drought, especially during the summer.

"A grounded barge can cost as much as $10,000 a day," says Brennan. "Low water levels may also affect water purity and supply and recreation."

Working with Dr. Ana Barros, assistant professor of civil engineering, Brennan developed a model that can predict extreme drought episodes three, six and nine months in advance.

"The model uses a measure of the temporal evolution of the spatial variability of precipitation over a period of time in the past," says Brennan.

The researchers combine this measure with the accepted measure of current drought, the Palmer Drought Severity Index. The PDSI uses soil moisture, temperature and precipitation along with specific parameters for the region to detect if there is a current drought. The PDSI is used to issue drought emergencies and to rescind them as well.

The model was tested and validated on historic data through 1996.

"We can predict drought three to six months in advance pretty well," says Brennan. "At the nine-month scale we can capture the timing of extreme droughts, but the severity of the drought is not as accurate."

The researchers would like to see their model running on current data so that it could be used as a real-time forecast model.

Lisa Mead, a biology undergraduate and a participant in the Women in Science and Engineering Internship program, also participated in this research.

EDITORS: Ms. Brennan may be reached at (814) 865-2342 or kelly@essc.psu.edu by email. Dr. Barros may be reached at (814) 863-8609 or barros@essc.psu.edu by email.
-end-


Penn State

Related Drought Articles from Brightsurf:

Redefining drought in the US corn belt
As the climate trends warmer and drier, global food security increasingly hinges on crops' ability to withstand drought.

The cost of drought in Italy
Drought-induced economic losses ranged in Italy between 0.55 and 1.75 billion euros over the period 2001-2016, and droughts caused significant collateral effects not only on the agricultural sector, but also on food manufacturing industries.

Consequences of the 2018 summer drought
The drought that hit central and northern Europe in summer 2018 had serious effects on crops, forests and grasslands.

Songbirds reduce reproduction to help survive drought
New research from the University of Montana suggests tropical songbirds in both the Old and New Worlds reduce reproduction during severe droughts, and this - somewhat surprisingly -- may actually increase their survival rates.

Predicting drought in the American West just got more difficult
A new, USC-led study of more than 1,000 years of North American droughts and global conditions found that forecasting a lack of precipitation is rarely straightforward.

Where is the water during a drought?
In low precipitation periods - where and how is the limited available water distributed and what possibilities are there for improving retention in the soil and the landscape?

What does drought mean for endangered California salmon?
Droughts threatens California's endangered salmon population -- but pools that serve as drought refuges could make the difference between life and death for these vulnerable fish.

With shrinking snowpack, drought predictability melting away
New research from CU Boulder suggests that during the 21st century, our ability to predict drought using snow will literally melt away.

An evapotranspiration deficit drought index to detect drought impacts on ecosystems
The difference between actual and potential evapotranspiration, technically termed a standardized evapotranspiration deficit drought index (SEDI), can more sensitively capture the biological changes of ecosystems in response to the dynamics of drought intensity, compared with indices based on precipitation and temperature.

Sesame yields stable in drought conditions
Research shows adding sesame to cotton-sorghum crop rotations is possible in west Texas

Read More: Drought News and Drought Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.