One of the challenges in developing a drought monitoring and early warning system is building credibility and awareness so that decision-makers can use it with confidence. Sometimes, natural events provide unexpected assistance.
This Standardized Precipitation Index map from June 2015, produced at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and
Hydrology, shows that portions of the Caribbean region are experiencing extremely dry conditions. For the discussion of
this map and to see the SPI for different time scales, please visit the CIMH site
The Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) launched a preliminary version of the Caribbean Drought and Precipitation Monitoring Network in January 2009, spanning the 16 island nations that it serves. As it turned out, very serious drought came to the region in late 2009, lasting into 2010. That got people’s attention, and the new system performed well during its unplanned trial by fire.
“We were able to advise the regional governments,” said Adrian Trotman, chief of applied meteorology and climatology at CIMH. “We had been working long enough to know what were the real concerns. Agriculture was suffering badly from intense dry seasons.”
As unfortunate as the 2009-10 drought was in the Caribbean – it helped create a lasting culture of drought awareness that can lead to a more drought prepared society. “We know they use the information being produced, because if they don’t see the information on the website, they call,” said Anthony Moore, an applied meteorologist with CIMH who produces monthly drought products. “The whole concept of drought alerts has taken off since drought in 2009-10. We were able to issue alerts fairly early so the water resource managers could put some of their plans in place,” such as restricting water use for washing cars.
Trotman, Moore and Lisa Kirton-Reed, a CIMH applied climatologist who helps produce six-month drought outlooks, visited the National Drought Mitigation Center in July 2015 to observe how the U.S. Drought Monitor is made, in part because of the Drought Monitor’s high profile with policy makers and the media. The NDMC has previously conducted training and workshops by partnering with CIMH on drought monitoring and early warning, impacts and planning.
From left, Adrian Trotman, Anthony Moore, Brian Fuchs, Mark Svoboda, Lisa Kirton-Reed and Michael Hayes. Trotman, acting chief of applied meteorology and climatology at the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, along with Moore and Kirton-Reed, both CIMH applied meteorologists, visited the National Drought Mitigation Center in July 2015 to work with NDMC climatologists and U.S. Drought Monitor authors Fuchs and Svoboda, and to meet with Hayes, director of the NDMC.
The following week, Trotman was scheduled to visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, to see how CIMH’s technique of forecasting the SPI compares with U.S. drought outlook methods.
Mark Svoboda, leader of the NDMC’s Monitoring program area and one of the founding authors of the U.S. Drought Monitor, said that Trotman’s team at CIMH has a strong incentive to stay on the cutting edge of climate and drought early warning systems.
“So many issues impact these island nations – sea level rise, high temperatures, tropical storms, and of course, drought,” Svoboda said. “Smaller islands might not even have large ground water reserves or viable rivers and streams to buffer them through longer dry seasons or multi-season droughts. Fresh water from rain is really critical. Drought in island nations can come on very quickly, with unique challenges.”
The Caribbean Drought and Precipitation Monitoring Network relies on data from one or more observation stations on each island. They compare current data with climate history using the Standardized Precipitation Index and deciles, and recently launched an impacts database. They are looking at ways to incorporate more kinds of data, such as soil moisture, streamflow and satellite observations, and working to help the various nations develop finer-scale national-level monitoring.
NDMC climatologist and U.S. Drought Monitor author Brian Fuchs explains how he incorporates recommendations and various data sources to update the depiction of drought in Florida, for the benefit of visitors from the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology who came to Lincoln, Nebraska, in July to observe the process.
In addition to advances in monitoring, since 2010, Trotman said, “we’re trying to advocate for better national coordination of planning, so when we get early warning information, you know what to do with it.”
Unlike drought on the mainland of the United States, which can go on for years, meteorologists in the Caribbean can be fairly confident that any given drought will end during the next wet season, Trotman said. He noted that unlike the world’s temperate zones that have four seasons, the Caribbean has two seasons, dry and wet.
Svoboda praised the efforts of CIMH. “They’re a nice model for other regions to follow. It’s not just drought early warning; they’re now focusing on planning, too,” he said. “They’re out there leading by example.”
For more information, please visit:
The Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology: http://www.cimh.edu.bb/
The Caribbean Drought Bulletin, June 2015: http://rcc.cimh.edu.bb/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/CaribbeanDroughtBulletin_June_Vol2_Issue1.pdf
The Caribbean Regional Climate Centre: http://rcc.cimh.edu.bb/