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  • Author or Editor: Mark Svoboda x
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Zachary T. Leasor
,
Steven M. Quiring
, and
Mark D. Svoboda

Abstract

Drought is a prominent climatic hazard in the south-central United States. Drought severity is frequently classified using the categories established by the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM). This study evaluates whether the thresholds for the standardized precipitation index (SPI) used by the USDM accurately classify drought severity. This study uses the SPI based on PRISM precipitation data from 1900 to 2015 to evaluate drought severity in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The results show that the fixed SPI thresholds for the USDM drought categories may lead to a systematic underestimation of drought severity in arid regions. To address this issue, objective drought thresholds were developed at each location by fitting a cumulative distribution function at each location to ensure that the observed frequency of drought in each severity category (D0–D4) matched the theoretical expectations of the USDM. This approach reduces the systematic biases in drought severity across the western portion of the study region. Therefore, we recommend developing objective drought thresholds for each location and SPI time scale (e.g., 1, 3, and 6 months). This method can be used to develop objective drought thresholds for any drought index and climate region of interest.

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Tsegaye Tadesse
,
Brian D. Wardlow
,
Jesslyn F. Brown
,
Mark D. Svoboda
,
Michael J. Hayes
,
Brian Fuchs
, and
Denise Gutzmer

Abstract

The vegetation drought response index (VegDRI), which combines traditional climate- and satellite-based approaches for assessing vegetation conditions, offers new insights into assessing the impacts of drought from local to regional scales. In 2011, the U.S. southern Great Plains, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, was plagued by moderate to extreme drought that was intensified by an extended period of record-breaking heat. The 2011 drought presented an ideal case study to evaluate the performance of VegDRI in characterizing developing drought conditions. Assessment of the spatiotemporal drought patterns represented in the VegDRI maps showed that the severity and patterns of the drought across the region corresponded well to the record warm temperatures and much-below-normal precipitation reported by the National Climatic Data Center and the sectoral drought impacts documented by the Drought Impact Reporter (DIR). VegDRI values and maps also showed the evolution of the drought signal before the Las Conchas Fire (the largest fire in New Mexico’s history). Reports in the DIR indicated that the 2011 drought had major adverse impacts on most rangeland and pastures in Texas and Oklahoma, resulting in total direct losses of more than $12 billion associated with crop, livestock, and timber production. These severe impacts on vegetation were depicted by the VegDRI at subcounty, state, and regional levels. This study indicates that the VegDRI maps can be used with traditional drought indicators and other in situ measures to help producers and government officials with various management decisions, such as justifying disaster assistance, assessing fire risk, and identifying locations to move livestock for grazing.

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