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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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Christopher R. Hain, John R. Mecikalski, and Martha C. Anderson

Abstract

A retrieval of available water fraction ( f AW) is proposed using surface flux estimates from satellite-based thermal infrared (TIR) imagery and the Atmosphere–Land Exchange Inversion (ALEXI) model. Available water serves as a proxy for soil moisture conditions, where f AW can be converted to volumetric soil moisture through two soil texture dependents parameters—field capacity and permanent wilting point. The ability of ALEXI to provide valuable information about the partitioning of the surface energy budget, which can be largely dictated by soil moisture conditions, accommodates the retrieval of an average f AW over the surface to the rooting depth of the active vegetation. For this method, the fraction of actual to potential evapotranspiration ( f PET) is computed from an ALEXI estimate of latent heat flux and potential evapotranspiration (PET). The ALEXI-estimated f PET can be related to f AW in the soil profile. Four unique f PET to f AW relationships are proposed and validated against Oklahoma Mesonet soil moisture observations within a series of composite periods during the warm seasons of 2002–04. Using the validation results, the most representative of the four relationships is chosen and shown to produce reasonable (mean absolute errors values less than 20%) f AW estimates when compared to Oklahoma Mesonet observations. Quantitative comparisons between ALEXI and modeled f AW estimates from the Eta Data Assimilation System (EDAS) are also performed to assess the possible advantages of using ALEXI soil moisture estimates within numerical weather predication (NWP) simulations. This TIR retrieval technique is advantageous over microwave techniques because of the ability to indirectly sense f AW—and hence soil moisture conditions—extending into the root-zone layer. Retrievals are also possible over dense vegetation cover and are available on spatial resolutions on the order of the native TIR imagery. A notable disadvantage is the inability to retrieve f AW conditions through cloud cover.

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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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Yafang Zhong, Jason A. Otkin, Martha C. Anderson, and Christopher Hain

Abstract

Despite the key importance of soil moisture–evapotranspiration (ET) coupling in the climate system, limited availability of soil moisture and ET observations poses a major impediment for investigation of this coupling regarding spatiotemporal characteristics and potential modifications under climate change. To better understand and quantify soil moisture–ET coupling and relevant processes, this study takes advantage of in situ soil moisture observations from the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) for the time period of 2010–17 and a satellite-derived version of the evapotranspiration stress index (ESI), which represents anomalies in a normalized ratio of actual to reference ET. The analyses reveal strong seasonality and regional characteristics of the ESI–land surface interactions across the United States, with the strongest control of soil moisture on the ESI found in the southern Great Plains during spring, and in the north-central United States, the northern Great Plains, and the Pacific Northwest during summer. In drier climate regions such as the northern Great Plains and north-central United States, soil moisture control on the ESI is confined to surface soil layers, with subsurface soil moisture passively responding to changes in the ESI. The soil moisture–ESI interaction is more uniform between surface and subsurface soils in wetter regions with higher vegetation cover. These results provide a benchmark for simulation of soil moisture–ET coupling and are useful for projection of associated climate processes in the future.

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David J. Lorenz, Jason A. Otkin, Benjamin Zaitchik, Christopher Hain, and Martha C. Anderson

Abstract

Probabilistic forecasts of changes in soil moisture and an evaporative stress index (ESI) on subseasonal time scales over the contiguous United States are developed. The forecasts use the current land surface conditions and numerical weather prediction forecasts from the Subseasonal to Seasonal (S2S) Prediction project. Changes in soil moisture are quite predictable 8–14 days in advance with 50% or more of the variance explained over the majority of the contiguous United States; however, changes in ESI are significantly less predictable. A simple red noise model of predictability shows that the spatial variations in forecast skill are primarily a result of variations in the autocorrelation, or persistence, of the predicted variable, especially for the ESI. The difference in overall skill between soil moisture and ESI, on the other hand, is due to the greater soil moisture predictability by the numerical model forecasts. As the forecast lead time increases from 8–14 to 15–28 days, however, the autocorrelation dominates the soil moisture and ESI differences as well. An analysis of modeled transpiration, and bare soil and canopy water evaporation contributions to total evaporation, suggests improvements to the ESI forecasts can be achieved by estimating the relative contributions of these components to the initial ESI state. The importance of probabilistic forecasts for reproducing the correct probability of anomaly intensification is also shown.

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Christopher R. Hain, Wade T. Crow, Martha C. Anderson, and M. Tugrul Yilmaz

Abstract

In recent years, increased attention has been paid to the role of previously neglected water source (e.g., irrigation, direct groundwater extraction, and inland water bodies) and sink (e.g., tile drainage) processes on the surface energy balance. However, efforts to parameterize these processes within land surface models (LSMs) have generally been hampered by a lack of appropriate observational tools for directly observing the impact(s) of such processes on surface energy fluxes. One potential strategy for quantifying these impacts are direct comparisons between bottom-up surface energy flux predictions from a one-dimensional, free-drainage LSM with top-down energy flux estimates derived via thermal infrared remote sensing. The neglect of water source (and/or sink) processes in the bottom-up LSM can be potentially diagnosed through the presence of systematic energy flux biases relative to the top-down remote sensing retrieval. Based on this concept, the authors introduce the Atmosphere–Land Exchange Inverse (ALEXI) Source–Sink for Evapotranspiration (ASSET) index derived from comparisons between ALEXI remote sensing latent heat flux retrievals and comparable estimates obtained from the Noah LSM, version 3.2. Comparisons between ASSET index values and known spatial variations of groundwater depth, irrigation extent, inland water bodies, and tile drainage density within the contiguous United States verify the ability of ASSET to identify regions where neglected soil water source–sink processes may be impacting modeled surface energy fluxes. Consequently, ASSET appears to provide valuable information for ongoing efforts to improve the parameterization of new water source–sink processes within modern LSMs.

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Jason A. Otkin, Mark Shafer, Mark Svoboda, Brian Wardlow, Martha C. Anderson, Christopher Hain, and Jeffrey Basara
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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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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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Jason A. Otkin, Tonya Haigh, Anthony Mucia, Martha C. Anderson, and Christopher Hain

Abstract

The evolution of a flash drought event, characterized by a period of rapid drought intensification, is assessed using standard drought monitoring datasets and on-the-ground reports obtained via a written survey of agricultural stakeholders after the flash drought occurred. The flash drought impacted agricultural production across a five-state region centered on the Black Hills of South Dakota during the summer of 2016. The survey asked producers to estimate when certain drought impacts, ranging from decreased soil moisture to plant stress and diminished water resources, first occurred on their land. The geographic distribution and timing of the survey responses were compared to the U.S. Drought Monitor and to datasets depicting anomalies in evapotranspiration, precipitation, and soil moisture. Overall, the survey responses showed that this event was a multifaceted drought that caused a variety of impacts across the region. Comparisons of the survey reports to the drought monitoring datasets revealed that the topsoil moisture dataset provided the earliest warning of drought development, but at the expense of a high false alarm rate. Anomalies in evapotranspiration were closely aligned to the survey reports of plant stress and also provided a more focused depiction of where the worst drought conditions were located. This study provides evidence that qualitative reports of drought impacts obtained via written surveys provide valuable information that can be used to assess the accuracy of high-resolution drought monitoring datasets.

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