Drought -- National Drought Mitigation Center


Date of this Version



Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Vol. 80, No. 3, March 1999 pp. 429-438


©1999 American Meteorological Society


Droughts are difficult to detect and monitor. Drought indices, most commonly the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), have been used with limited success as operational drought monitoring tools and triggers for policy responses. Recently, a new index, the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), was developed to improve drought detection and monitoring capabilities. The SPI has several characteristics that are an improvement over previous indices, including its simplicity and temporal flexibility, that allow its application for water resources on all timescales. In this article, the 1996 drought in the southern plains and southwestern United States is examined using the SPI. A series of maps are used to illustrate how the SPI would have assisted in being able to detect the onset of the drought and monitor its progression. A case study investigating the drought in greater detail for Texas is also given. The SPI demonstrated that it is a tool that should be used operationally as part of a state, regional, or national drought watch system in the United States. During the 1996 drought, the SPI detected the onset of the drought at least 1 month in advance of the PDSI. This timeliness will be invaluable for improving mitigation and response actions of state and federal government to drought-affected regions in the future.