Advancing Drought Monitoring and Prediction


This special collection of the Journal of Hydrometeorology focuses on scientific research to advance the U.S.'s capability to monitor and predict drought, including the development of new data and methodologies. The results presented in this issue represent the outcomes of research in large part funded by NOAA's Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (MAPP) program, also leveraging other U.S. agencies' investments, and coordinated within the framework of the MAPP Drought Task Force. The collection includes a Synthesis paper that motivates the research, highlights the main results of the various investigations, and summarizes the remaining challenges and research gaps as well as the prospects for new global scale drought monitoring and prediction systems. The collection is divided broadly into papers addressing monitoring and those addressing the prediction problem, but also includes an important focus on improving our understanding of past droughts. The papers provide a state-of-the-practice/state-of-the-science assessment of the modern drought challenge and efforts to understand and manage it.


Collection organizers:

Siegfried Schubert and Kingtse Mo, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Annarita Mariotti, NOAA Climate Program Office

Advancing Drought Monitoring and Prediction

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M. Hoerling
J. Eischeid
A. Kumar
R. Leung
A. Mariotti
K. Mo
S. Schubert
, and
R. Seager

Central Great Plains precipitation deficits during May–August 2012 were the most severe since at least 1895, eclipsing the Dust Bowl summers of 1934 and 1936. Drought developed suddenly in May, following near-normal precipitation during winter and early spring. Its proximate causes were a reduction in atmospheric moisture transport into the Great Plains from the Gulf of Mexico. Processes that generally provide air mass lift and condensation were mostly absent, including a lack of frontal cyclones in late spring followed by suppressed deep convection in the summer owing to large-scale subsidence and atmospheric stabilization.

Seasonal forecasts did not predict the summer 2012 central Great Plains drought development, which therefore arrived without early warning. Climate simulations and empirical analysis suggest that ocean surface temperatures together with changes in greenhouse gases did not induce a substantial reduction in sum mertime precipitation over the central Great Plains during 2012. Yet, diagnosis of the retrospective climate simulations also reveals a regime shift toward warmer and drier summertime Great Plains conditions during the recent decade, most probably due to natural decadal variability. As a consequence, the probability of the severe summer Great Plains drought occurring may have increased in the last decade compared to the 1980s and 1990s, and the so-called tail risk for severe drought may have been heightened in summer 2012. Such an extreme drought event was nonetheless still found to be a rare occurrence within the spread of 2012 climate model simulations. The implications of this study's findings for U.S. seasonal drought forecasting are discussed.

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