Severe and widespread drought occurred over a large portion of the United States between 1974 and 1977. Impacts on agriculture and other industries, as well as local water supplies, were substantial. The federal government responded with forty assistance programs administered by sixteen federal agencies. Assistance was provided primarily in the form of loans and grants to people, businesses and governments experiencing hardship caused by drought. The total cost of the program is estimated at $7–8 billion.
Federal response to the mid-1970s drought was largely untimely, ineffective and poorly coordinated. Four recommendations are offered that, if implemented, would improve future drought assessment and response efforts: 1) reliable and timely informational products and dissemination plans; 2) improved impact assessment techniques, especially in the agricultural sector, for use by government to identify periods of enhanced risk and to trigger assistance measures; 3) administratively centralized drought declaration procedures that are well publicized and consistently applied; and 4) standby assistance measures that encourage appropriate levels of risk management by producers and that are equitable, consistent and predictable. The development of a national drought plan that incorporates these four items is recommended. Atmospheric scientists have an important role to play in the collection and interpretation of near-real time weather data for use by government decision makers.