Drought -- National Drought Mitigation Center


Date of this Version



Published in Remote Sensing of Drought: Innovative Monitoring Approaches, edited by Brian D. Wardlow, Martha C. Anderson, & James P. Verdin (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2012).


U.S. Government Work


The standard suite of indicators currently used in operational drought monitoring reflects anomalous conditions in several major components of the hydrologic budget—representing deficits in precipitation, soil moisture content, runoff, surface and groundwater storage, snowpack, and streamflow. In principle, it is useful to have a diversity of indices because drought can assume many forms (meteorological, agricultural, hydrological, and socioeconomic), over broad ranges in timescale (weeks to years), and with varied impacts of interest to different stakeholder groups. Farmers, for example, may be principally interested in soil moisture deficits, river forecasters will focus on streamflow fluctuations, and water managers will be concerned with longer-term stability in municipal water supply and reservoir levels. Only recently has actual evapotranspiration (ET) been considered as a primary indicator of drought conditions (e.g., Anderson et al., 2007b; Labedzki and Kanecka- Geszke, 2009; Li et al., 2005; Mo et al., 2010). ET is a valuable drought indicator because it reflects not only moisture availability but also the rate at which water is being consumed. Because transpiration (T) and carbon uptake by vegetation are tightly coupled through stomatal exchange, ET anomalies are indicative of vegetation health and growing conditions. In addition, the importance of so-called flash droughts is becoming increasingly evident, where hot, dry, and windy atmospheric conditions can lead to unusually rapid soil moisture depletion and, in some cases, devastating crop failure. Such events cannot be easily identified using local precipitation anomalies but should have a detectable ET signature.