Date of this Version
The idea of better monitoring and assessing drought has been a quest of NDMC director Don Wilhite for more than two decades. He has been an advocate of better climate monitoring, particularly drought monitoring, because drought is a normal, recurring hazard in virtually all of the United States. The challenge is to recognize drought, a slow-onset or “creeping” natural disaster, before a region is in the middle of one.
The most recent surge in interest in drought arose during the 1995–96 drought in the Southwest and southern Great Plains states. At the NDMC we discussed how we could do a better job of tracking and assessing the severity of droughts. One question we often hear is “How does this drought compare, or rank, to other droughts or the drought of record for this region or state?” Or “Just how strong or severe is this drought?” These are complicated questions to tackle. We have to take into account spatial extent, intensity, duration, and impacts on people and the affected environment. That discussion is for another time.