The U.S. Department of Agriculture and NDMC – in partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), the VI Department of Agriculture, the NOAA National Weather Service & VITEMA – invite local agencies, farmers, researchers, students, and weather enthusiasts to a forum to explore how to include the USVI in the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Forum will be held from 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on August 30th and 8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. on August 31st at the UVI Great Hall on St. Croix with a video-conference link to Room 142 in the Administrative Conference Center on the UVI St. Thomas Campus. Register today at http://drought.unl.edu/Home/USDMUSVIStCroix.aspx to participate and receive free refreshments and lunches.
The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) monitors drought conditions using both scientific data and input from experts on-the-ground to provide a weekly analysis and assessment of current drought conditions for the United States. The USDM began in 1999 and now has around 400 local experts nationwide that contribute weekly. A group of a dozen authors from the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), NOAA and USDA use that input to make weekly maps that reflect their analysis and assessment of current drought conditions across the country, including Puerto Rico. The National Drought Mitigation Center is now seeking to include the USVI in the Drought Monitor.
Drought is a serious threat to the USVI. For the last 3 to 5 years, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have experienced uncommonly dry weather. Last year, eastern parts of St. Thomas and St. John, and the entire island of St. Croix (as well as eastern Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques) suffered through over six months without significant rainfall. Over 86% of Puerto Rico and the USVI were under a water deficit by early August 2015. These extreme conditions damaged crops and pastures, weakened and killed livestock and wildlife, and increased the threat of wildfires. (For more information, see Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are in the grip of a historic drought.)
“Here in the Caribbean Area, the effects of climate change make us more vulnerable than other areas of the world. We will be confronting many climate-related issues in the upcoming years that will change the way farmers manage their land. We face drought, wildfire, salt water intrusion of our aquifers from sea level rise, African dust, unpredictable weather – all traits of climate change. NRCS is here to help farmers adapt to climate change,” said NRCS Caribbean Area Director, Edwin Almodóvar.
“President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling producers in St. Croix that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The USVI Drought Monitor Forum aims to educate stakeholders on what the U.S. Drought Monitor is and to bring forward new techniques, products and ideas that help to analyze drought and associated impacts. The Forum is an ideal opportunity for users to tell Drought Monitor authors what they do and don’t like about the USDM, and how it can be enhanced and improved in the future. The U.S. Drought Monitor is an evolving product and many of the changes over the years were brought on by suggestions and ideas that came forth during discussions at previous Forums.
USDM authors also want to hear if USDM products are meeting stakeholders’ needs, and what else is needed in drought monitoring, early warning and prediction, and drought impact data collection. Authors also want to learn more about what data, tools and deliverables are available at the local and regional level that are unique to the Caribbean. Ample time for open and moderated panel discussions will allow for the open flow of ideas, comments, suggestions and critiques of current work.
-- Julie Wright, USDA-NRCS Caribbean Area Public Affairs Specialist, Julie.Wright@pr.usda.gov