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


Drought is a normal, recurring feature of climate in most parts of the world (Wilhite, 2000) that adversely affects vegetation conditions and can have significant impacts on agriculture, ecosystems, food security, human health, water resources, and the economy. For example, in the United States, 14 billion-dollar drought events occurred between 1980 and 2009 (NCDC, 2010), with a large proportion of the losses coming from the agricultural sector in the form of crop yield reductions and degraded hay/pasture conditions. During the 2002 drought, Hayes et al. (2004) found that many individual states across the United States experienced more than $1 billion in agriculture losses associated with both crops and livestock. The impact of drought on vegetation can have serious water resource implications as the use of finite surface and groundwater supplies to support agricultural crop production competes against other sectoral water interests (e.g., environmental, commercial, municipal, and recreation). Drought-related vegetation stress can also have various ecological impacts. Prime examples include widespread piñon pine tree die-off in the southwest United States due to protracted severe drought stress and associated bark beetle infestations (Breshears et al., 2005) and the geographic shift of a forest-woodland ecotone in this region in response to severe drought in the mid-1950s (Allen and Breshears, 1998). Tree mortality in response to extended drought periods has also been observed in other parts of the western United States (Guarin and Taylor, 2005), as well as in boreal (Kasischke and Turetsky, 2006), temperate (Fensham and Holman, 1999), and tropical (Williamson et al., 2000) forests. Droughts have also served as a catalyst for changes in wildfire activity (Swetnam and Betancourt, 1998; Westerling et al., 2006) and invasive plant species establishment (Everard et al., 2010).