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Developing Objective Operational Definitions for Monitoring Drought

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  • 1 Department of Geography, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
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Abstract

Drought is a complex phenomenon that is difficult to accurately describe because its definition is both spatially variant and context dependent. Decision makers in local, state, and federal agencies commonly use operational drought definitions that are based on specific drought index thresholds to trigger water conservation measures and determine levels of drought assistance. Unfortunately, many state drought plans utilize operational drought definitions that are derived subjectively and therefore may not be appropriate for triggering drought responses. This paper presents an objective methodology for establishing operational drought definitions. The advantages of this methodology are demonstrated by calculating meteorological drought thresholds for the Palmer drought severity index, the standardized precipitation index, and percent of normal precipitation using both station and climate division data from Texas. Results indicate that using subjectively derived operational drought definitions may lead to over- or underestimating true drought severity. Therefore, it is more appropriate to use an objective location-specific method for defining operational drought thresholds.

Corresponding author address: Steven M. Quiring, Department of Geography, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-3147. Email: squiring@tamu.edu

Abstract

Drought is a complex phenomenon that is difficult to accurately describe because its definition is both spatially variant and context dependent. Decision makers in local, state, and federal agencies commonly use operational drought definitions that are based on specific drought index thresholds to trigger water conservation measures and determine levels of drought assistance. Unfortunately, many state drought plans utilize operational drought definitions that are derived subjectively and therefore may not be appropriate for triggering drought responses. This paper presents an objective methodology for establishing operational drought definitions. The advantages of this methodology are demonstrated by calculating meteorological drought thresholds for the Palmer drought severity index, the standardized precipitation index, and percent of normal precipitation using both station and climate division data from Texas. Results indicate that using subjectively derived operational drought definitions may lead to over- or underestimating true drought severity. Therefore, it is more appropriate to use an objective location-specific method for defining operational drought thresholds.

Corresponding author address: Steven M. Quiring, Department of Geography, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-3147. Email: squiring@tamu.edu

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