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How the 2012 central U.S. drought evolved from the floods of 2011: A state-by-state assessment

January 12, 2015

Environmental conditions leading into 2012 gave scant indication of what was to come for 15 states in the central U.S. The drought of 2012 was the first since 1988 that impacted almost the entire Corn Belt. It intensified quickly, catching many by surprise, particularly following on the heels of catastrophic flooding the previous year.

The central U.S. 2012 drought assessment entitled “From too much to too little,” identifies the how the drought developed, progressed, and impacted the region, and how different states responded to the challenge. The story of this multi-billion-dollar disaster is told through state and regional experts who were actively involved in monitoring conditions and responding to the impacts.   

Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation Center climatologist, coordinated the effort, working with the National Integrated Drought Information System, the National Climatic Data Center, the National Weather Service, the High Plains and Midwest Regional Climate Centers, and the American Association of State Climatologists.

“The report documents a historic event for the Corn Belt,” Fuchs said. “Each state provided information about impacts and responses.  It provides a great opportunity to learn from each other’s experience and prepare for future events.”

The report also documents drought monitoring efforts across the region.

"Our ability to monitor and assess drought conditions gets better and better each year as new data networks and monitoring products become available," said Jim Angel, Illinois state climatologist and one of the authors of the report. "Another standout feature in the 2012 drought was the sheer volume and quality of data coming from state-level monitoring networks, providing measurements rarely collected elsewhere like soil moisture and soil temperature."

Soil data is valuable in assessing drought in agricultural areas. During the comparable drought of 1988, state-level soil moisture measurements were not available.

“This assessment provides useful insight for planners and decision makers involved with agriculture, municipal water supplies, and river transport about how to prepare for future events,” Fuchs said.

Each state in the region took a unique approach to identifying and dealing with the drought’s impacts. Effects varied throughout the region, which is not too surprising considering the differences in the climatic regimes from east to west and north to south in this part of the U.S.

Planning, preparedness, monitoring, and impact collection all play an important role in lessening the devastation during a drought event. It is hoped that the lessons learned from the 2012 drought event, as outlined in this report, will increase our knowledge of how to address the next drought event.

Executive Summary (pdf)

Full Report (pdf)

-- By Kathleen Bogan, National Integrated Drought Information System web content manager

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