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  • Author or Editor: Mark Svoboda x
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Jason A. Otkin
,
Martha C. Anderson
,
Christopher Hain
, and
Mark Svoboda

Abstract

In this study, the ability of a new drought metric based on thermal infrared remote sensing imagery to provide early warning of an elevated risk for drought intensification is assessed. This new metric, called the rapid change index (RCI), is designed to highlight areas undergoing rapid changes in moisture stress as inferred from weekly changes in the evaporative stress index (ESI) generated using the Atmosphere–Land Exchange Inverse (ALEXI) surface energy balance model. Two case study analyses across the central United States revealed that the initial appearance of negative RCI values indicative of rapid increases in moisture stress preceded the introduction of severe-to-exceptional drought in the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) by more than 4 weeks. Using data from 2000 to 2012, the probability of USDM intensification of at least one, two, or three categories over different time periods was computed as a function of the RCI magnitude. Compared to baseline probabilities, the RCI-derived probabilities often indicate a much higher risk for drought development that increases greatly as the RCI becomes more negative. When the RCI is strongly negative, many areas are characterized by intensification probabilities that are several times higher than the baseline climatology. The highest probabilities encompass much of the central and eastern United States, with the greatest increase over climatology within regions most susceptible to rapid drought development. These results show that the RCI provides useful drought early warning capabilities that could be used to alert stakeholders of an increased risk for drought development over subseasonal time scales.

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Jason A. Otkin
,
Martha C. Anderson
,
Christopher Hain
, and
Mark Svoboda

Abstract

In this study, the potential utility of using rapid temporal changes in drought indices to provide early warning of an elevated risk for drought development over subseasonal time scales is assessed. Standardized change anomalies were computed each week during the 2000–13 growing seasons for drought indices depicting anomalies in evapotranspiration, precipitation, and soil moisture. A rapid change index (RCI) that encapsulates the accumulated magnitude of rapid changes in the weekly anomalies was computed each week for each drought index, and then a simple statistical method was used to convert the RCI values into drought intensification probabilities depicting the likelihood that drought severity as analyzed by the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) would worsen in subsequent weeks. Local and regional case study analyses revealed that elevated drought intensification probabilities often occur several weeks prior to changes in the USDM and in topsoil moisture and crop condition datasets compiled by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Statistical analyses showed that the RCI-derived probabilities are most reliable and skillful over the central and eastern United States in regions most susceptible to rapid drought development. Taken together, these results suggest that tools used to identify areas experiencing rapid changes in drought indices may be useful components of future drought early warning systems.

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Jason A. Otkin
,
Yafang Zhong
,
Eric D. Hunt
,
Jeff Basara
,
Mark Svoboda
,
Martha C. Anderson
, and
Christopher Hain

Abstract

This study examines the evolution of soil moisture, evapotranspiration, vegetation, and atmospheric conditions during an unusual flash drought–flash recovery sequence that occurred across the south-central United States during 2015. This event was characterized by a period of rapid drought intensification (flash drought) during late summer that was terminated by heavy rainfall at the end of October that eliminated the extreme drought conditions over a 2-week period (flash recovery). A detailed analysis was performed using time series of environmental variables derived from meteorological, remote sensing, and land surface modeling datasets. Though the analysis revealed a similar progression of cascading effects in each region, characteristics of the flash drought such as its onset time, rate of intensification, and vegetation impacts differed between regions due to variations in the antecedent conditions and the atmospheric anomalies during its growth. Overall, flash drought signals initially appeared in the near-surface soil moisture, followed closely by reductions in evapotranspiration. Total column soil moisture deficits took longer to develop, especially in the western part of the region where heavy rainfall during the spring and early summer led to large moisture surpluses. Large differences were noted in how land surface models in the North American Land Data Assimilation System depicted soil moisture evolution during the flash drought; however, the models were more similar in their assessment of conditions during the flash recovery period. This study illustrates the need to use multiple datasets to track the evolution and impacts of rapidly evolving flash drought and flash recovery events.

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David J. Lorenz
,
Jason A. Otkin
,
Mark Svoboda
,
Christopher R. Hain
,
Martha C. Anderson
, and
Yafang Zhong

Abstract

The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) classifies drought into five discrete dryness/drought categories based on expert synthesis of numerous data sources. In this study, an empirical methodology is presented for creating a nondiscrete USDM index that simultaneously 1) represents the dryness/wetness value on a continuum and 2) is most consistent with the time scales and processes of the actual USDM. A continuous USDM representation will facilitate USDM forecasting methods, which will benefit from knowledge of where, within a discrete drought class, the current drought state most probably lies. The continuous USDM is developed such that the actual discrete USDM can be reconstructed by discretizing the continuous USDM based on the 30th, 20th, 10th, 5th, and 2nd percentiles—corresponding with USDM definitions for the D4–D0 drought classes. Anomalies in precipitation, soil moisture, and evapotranspiration over a range of different time scales are used as predictors to estimate the continuous USDM. The methodology is fundamentally probabilistic, meaning that the probability density function (PDF) of the continuous USDM is estimated and therefore the degree of uncertainty in the fit is properly characterized. Goodness-of-fit metrics and direct comparisons between the actual and predicted USDM analyses during different seasons and years indicate that this objective drought classification method is well correlated with the current USDM analyses. In Part II, this continuous USDM index will be used to improve intraseasonal USDM intensification forecasts because it is capable of distinguishing between USDM states that are either far from or near to the next-higher drought category.

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David J. Lorenz
,
Jason A. Otkin
,
Mark Svoboda
,
Christopher R. Hain
,
Martha C. Anderson
, and
Yafang Zhong

Abstract

Probabilistic forecasts of U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) intensification over 2-, 4-, and 8-week time periods are developed based on recent anomalies in precipitation, evapotranspiration, and soil moisture. These statistical forecasts are computed using logistic regression with cross validation. While recent precipitation, evapotranspiration, and soil moisture do provide skillful forecasts, it is found that additional information on the current state of the USDM adds significant skill to the forecasts. The USDM state information takes the form of a metric that quantifies the “distance” from the next-higher drought category using a nondiscrete estimate of the current USDM state. This adds skill because USDM states that are close to the next-higher drought category are more likely to intensify than states that are farther from this threshold. The method shows skill over most of the United States but is most skillful over the north-central United States, where the cross-validated Brier skill score averages 0.20 for both 2- and 4-week forecasts. The 8-week forecasts are less skillful in most locations. The 2- and 4-week probabilities have very good reliability. The 8-week probabilities, on the other hand, are noticeably overconfident. For individual drought events, the method shows the most skill when forecasting high-amplitude flash droughts and when large regions of the United States are experiencing intensifying drought.

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Martha C. Anderson
,
Christopher Hain
,
Jason Otkin
,
Xiwu Zhan
,
Kingtse Mo
,
Mark Svoboda
,
Brian Wardlow
, and
Agustin Pimstein

Abstract

Comparison of multiple hydrologic indicators, derived from independent data sources and modeling approaches, may improve confidence in signals of emerging drought, particularly during periods of rapid onset. This paper compares the evaporative stress index (ESI)—a diagnostic fast-response indicator describing evapotranspiration (ET) deficits derived within a thermal remote sensing energy balance framework—with prognostic estimates of soil moisture (SM), ET, and runoff anomalies generated with the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS). Widely used empirical indices based on thermal remote sensing [vegetation health index (VHI)] and precipitation percentiles [standardized precipitation index (SPI)] were also included to assess relative performance. Spatial and temporal correlations computed between indices over the contiguous United States were compared with historical drought classifications recorded in the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM). Based on correlation results, improved forms for the ESI were identified, incorporating a Penman–Monteith reference ET scaling flux and implementing a temporal smoothing algorithm at the pixel level. Of all indices evaluated, anomalies in the NLDAS ensemble-averaged SM provided the highest correlations with USDM drought classes, while the ESI yielded the best performance of the remote sensing indices. The VHI provided reasonable correlations, except under conditions of energy-limited vegetation growth during the cold season and at high latitudes. Change indices computed from ESI and SM time series agree well, and in combination offer a good indicator of change in drought severity class in the USDM, often preceding USDM class deterioration by several weeks. Results suggest that a merged ESI–SM change indicator may provide valuable early warning of rapidly evolving “flash drought” conditions.

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Jason A. Otkin
,
Martha C. Anderson
,
Christopher Hain
,
Iliana E. Mladenova
,
Jeffrey B. Basara
, and
Mark Svoboda

Abstract

Reliable indicators of rapid drought onset can help to improve the effectiveness of drought early warning systems. In this study, the evaporative stress index (ESI), which uses remotely sensed thermal infrared imagery to estimate evapotranspiration (ET), is compared to drought classifications in the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) and standard precipitation-based drought indicators for several cases of rapid drought development that have occurred across the United States in recent years. Analysis of meteorological time series from the North American Regional Reanalysis indicates that these events are typically characterized by warm air temperature and low cloud cover anomalies, often with high winds and dewpoint depressions that serve to hasten evaporative depletion of soil moisture reserves. Standardized change anomalies depicting the rate at which various multiweek ESI composites changed over different time intervals are computed to more easily identify areas experiencing rapid changes in ET. Overall, the results demonstrate that ESI change anomalies can provide early warning of incipient drought impacts on agricultural systems, as indicated in crop condition reports collected by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. In each case examined, large negative change anomalies indicative of rapidly drying conditions were either coincident with the introduction of drought in the USDM or lead the USDM drought depiction by several weeks, depending on which ESI composite and time-differencing interval was used. Incorporation of the ESI as a data layer used in the construction of the USDM may improve timely depictions of moisture conditions and vegetation stress associated with flash drought events.

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