National Drought Mitigation Center

Weather & Drought

What is Drought?

For ranchers in the United States, drought can be defined as too little soil water to meet the needs of dominant forage species during their rapid growth windows.

A “dry” year may be a considered a drought. A short term drought may require that ranchers make management adjustments to get by. Net returns for that year may be impacted, but the ranch's fixed assets often remain viable.

A “multi-year drought” may involve 3-5 years or more of continued moisture shortage. Each year the impacts of the drought are multiplied by the shortage of resources and the management decisions made the previous year(s). As the drought continues, resource flexibility and alternatives shrink. Economic reserves often get depleted and stress levels increase during multi-year drought. (Source: Cotton, Monitoring Rangelands, a Practical Reference)

Drought is a Normal Part of Climate

Many mistakenly consider drought a rare and random event; actually, drought is a normal, recurrent feature of climate that has been impacting humans since the beginning of time. Learn more about climate.

Drought is ultimately a temporary condition. Drought differs from aridity, which is restricted to low rainfall regions and is a permanent feature of climate.

Drought occurs in virtually all climatic zones; however, drought characteristics vary significantly from one region to another

You Can Plan for Drought

Droughts are natural events that do have one advantage over other natural disasters -- they allow for planning and mitigation ahead of time that will lessen the impact when they do take place. 

As an individual acknowledges their own susceptibility to drought, they need to consider how often droughts have happened in their region in the past as well as how likely droughts are to occur in the future.