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The NDMC's illustration of the hydroillogical cycle builds on earlier observations of human perception. I.R. Tannehill noted in Drought: Its Causes and Effects in 1947:

We welcome the first clear day after a rainy spell. Rainless days continue for a time and we are pleased to have a long spell of such fine weather. It keeps on and we are a little worried. A few days more and we are really in trouble. The first rainless day in a spell of fine weather contributes as much to the drought as the last, but no one knows how serious it will be until the last dry day is gone and the rains have come again.

Drought is a recurring feature of nearly every climate on the planet. In many parts of the world, including North America, we have little ability to predict exactly when drought will happen next. But if we look at history and climate data, we can be sure that drought will happen again at some point.

In the United States, a well-developed economy and agricultural system generally protect citizens from the most critical effects of drought such as shortages of food and water. However, drought still causes extreme hardship for farm and ranch families, and individual wells may run dry. Besides affecting municipal water suppliers, drought affects businesses and environmental interests that are reliant on adequate and timely amounts of precipitation and water, such as habitat for fish and wildlife, outdoor recreation outfitters, and landscaping and car wash services.

Drought regularly appears on the annually updated list of Billion-Dollar Disasters maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Who Should Plan for Drought?

Decision makers in any enterprise that is vulnerable to drought can benefit from planning ahead.

  • farming, ranching, rural communities, vendors
  • municipal water suppliers
  • wildfire managers
  • environmental organizations, advocates and agencies
  • public health specialists
  • hydropower producers
  • industry, including producers of biofuels
  • tourism and recreation operators
  • state, local and tribal governments, and any regional resource management entities

Key Questions

"How will drought affect us?"

Looking at past and potential future drought impacts helps people understand their vulnerability to drought.

Resources

"How will we recognize the next drought in the early stages?"

Adopt an operational definition of drought. Use triggers – predefined thresholds -- to link planned responses to drought, such as voluntary or mandatory water conservation, to the measured intensity of drought conditions.

Resources

"How can we protect ourselves from the next drought?"

The answer to this will vary tremendously depending on the enterprise. However, some actions can be implemented before the next drought (mitigation actions), while others are implemented during drought (response actions). The key is to identify both types of actions before the next drought.

Resources

Drought Monitoring and Planning Scales

Local, Regional and Tribal

Native American nations, river basin commissions, water suppliers, planning commissions, municipalities, and individual farmers and ranchers all make decisions about land and water resources. The NDMC recommends that each governmental authority develop its own drought plan, addressing the specific issues that occur within its scope of authority. It is ideal if local drought plans are developed with awareness of larger regional or state plans.

Resource: See the Guide to Community Drought Preparedness, Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch

State

Many water and resource management decisions are state's responsibilities. State approaches to drought planning vary greatly based on how much they experience drought and strained water supplies, and on what part of the country they are in. Water law and land management functions differently in the western and eastern United States.

The NDMC maintains a current collection of state-level plans that deal with drought, including drought, water, hazard and climate plans. We also have examples of plans from tribal nations and international resources.

Resource: See the 10-Step Planning Process, which has been adapted by many U.S. states as well as countries around the world.

National

Some countries have a national drought plan that outlines government activities related to drought monitoring and management. In the U.S., a variety of agencies monitor drought conditions and provide technical assistance and funding to prepare for and manage drought conditions.

Since 1998, the US Drought Monitor has provided a weekly snapshot of drought conditions across the country using data and input from a wide variety of state, federal, and other agencies. The NDMC has also recorded drought impacts across the country via the Drought Impact Reporter since 2005.

More Answers

The NDMC offers general drought planning processes and monitoring resources that can be of use in many circumstances. More tailored resources include Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch, and Drought-Ready Communities, geared to agricultural or community-level efforts.