Progress in Advancing Drought Monitoring and Prediction


Building on the previous special collection entitled “Advancing Drought Monitoring and Prediction,” this special collection 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 collection represent the outcomes of research in large part funded by NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) through NOAA’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (MAPP) program, also leveraging other U.S. agencies’ investments, and coordinated within the framework of the Third MAPP Drought Task Force (DTF3). 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. The collection includes an introductory paper, 10.1175/BAMS-D-20-0087.1, that motivates the research and highlights some recent advances in drought monitoring and prediction systems.

Collection organizers:

Christa D. Peters-Lidard, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Pierre Gentine, Columbia University
Michael Barlage, NOAA/Environmental Modeling Center
Dennis Lettenmaier, University of California, Los Angeles
David M. Mocko, SAIC at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Daniel Barrie, NOAA Climate Program Office

Progress in Advancing Drought Monitoring and Prediction

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Chul-Su Shin, Paul A. Dirmeyer, Bohua Huang, Subhadeep Halder, and Arun Kumar


The NCEP CFSv2 ensemble reforecasts initialized with different land surface analyses for the period of 1979–2010 have been conducted to assess the effect of uncertainty in land initial states on surface air temperature prediction. The two observation-based land initial states are adapted from the NCEP CFS Reanalysis (CFSR) and the NASA GLDAS-2 analysis; atmosphere, ocean, and ice initial states are identical for both reforecasts. This identical-twin experiment confirms that the prediction skill of surface air temperature is sensitive to the uncertainty of land initial states, especially in soil moisture and snow cover. There is no distinct characteristic that determines which set of the reforecasts performs better. Rather, the better performer varies with the lead week and location for each season. Estimates of soil moisture between the two land initial states are significantly different with an apparent north–south contrast for almost all seasons, causing predicted surface air temperature discrepancies between the two sets of reforecasts, particularly in regions where the magnitude of initial soil moisture difference lies in the top quintile. In boreal spring, inconsistency of snow cover between the two land initial states also plays a critical role in enhancing the discrepancy of predicted surface air temperature from week 5 to week 8. Our results suggest that a reduction of the uncertainty in land surface properties among the current land surface analyses will be beneficial to improving the prediction skill of surface air temperature on subseasonal time scales. Implications of a multiple land surface analysis ensemble are also discussed.

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Kingtse C. Mo and Dennis P Lettenmaier


We examine reforecasts of flash droughts over the United States for the late spring (April–May), midsummer (June–July), and late summer/early autumn (August–September) with lead times up to 3 pentads based on the NOAA second-generation Global Ensemble Forecast System reforecasts version 2 (GEFSv2). We consider forecasts of both heat wave and precipitation deficit (P deficit) flash droughts, where heat wave flash droughts are characterized by high temperature and depletion of soil moisture and P deficit flash droughts are caused by lack of precipitation that leads to (rather than being the cause of) high temperature. We find that the GEFSv2 reforecasts generally capture the frequency of occurrence (FOC) patterns. The equitable threat score (ETS) of heat wave flash drought forecasts for late spring in the regions where heat wave flash droughts are most likely to occur over the north-central and Pacific Northwest regions is statistically significant up to 2 pentads. The GEFSv2 reforecasts capture the basic pattern of the FOC of P-deficit flash droughts and also are skillful up to lead about 2 pentads. However, the reforecasts overestimate the P-deficit flash drought FOC over parts of the Southwest in late spring, leading to large false alarm rates. For autumn, the reforecasts underestimate P-deficit flash drought occurrence over California and Nevada. The GEFSv2 reforecasts are able to capture the approximately linear relationship between evaporation and soil moisture, but the lack of skill in precipitation forecasts limits the skill of P-deficit flash drought forecasts.

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Anthony M. DeAngelis, Hailan Wang, Randal D. Koster, Siegfried D. Schubert, Yehui Chang, and Jelena Marshak


Rapid-onset droughts, known as flash droughts, can have devastating impacts on agriculture, water resources, and ecosystems. The ability to predict flash droughts in advance would greatly enhance our preparation for them and potentially mitigate their impacts. Here, we investigate the prediction skill of the extreme 2012 flash drought over the U.S. Great Plains at subseasonal lead times (3 weeks or more in advance) in global forecast systems participating in the Subseasonal Experiment (SubX). An additional comprehensive set of subseasonal hindcasts with NASA’s GEOS model, a SubX model with relatively high prediction skill, was performed to investigate the separate contributions of atmospheric and land initial conditions to flash drought prediction skill. The results show that the prediction skill of the SubX models is quite variable. While skillful predictions are restricted to within the first two forecast weeks in most models, skill is considerably better (3–4 weeks or more) for certain models and initialization dates. The enhanced prediction skill is found to originate from two robust sources: 1) accurate soil moisture initialization once dry soil conditions are established, and 2) the satisfactory representation of quasi-stationary cross-Pacific Rossby wave trains that lead to the rapid intensification of flash droughts. Evidence is provided that the importance of soil moisture initialization applies more generally to central U.S. summer flash droughts. Our results corroborate earlier findings that accurate soil moisture initialization is important for skillful subseasonal forecasts and highlight the need for additional research on the sources and predictability of drought-inducing quasi-stationary atmospheric circulation anomalies.

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