The National Integrated Drought
Information System in the Midwest
Great Lakes Big Rivers Climate Workshop
Indianapolis, IN • December 11, 2018
Advancing Drought Science and Preparedness Across the Nation
Drought: A Part of Our History
Drought: A Part of Our Future
“Across much of the United States, surface
soil moisture is projected to decrease as the climate warms, driven largely by
increased evaporation rates due to warmer temperatures. This means that, all
else being equal, future droughts in most regions will likely be stronger and
potentially last longer.”
- 2018 National Climate Assessment
Summer PrecipitationAnnual Precipitation
Drought: How Does It Impact Us?
• Economic loss
– For example: crop/livestock production, recreational industry
• Threatens municipal and industrial water supplies
• Environmental damage
– For example: wildfire, reduce ecosystem resources
• Health impacts
– For example: water quality, air quality, mental health
• Cultural impacts
– For example: tribal customs/practices, recreational activities
• Ripple effects: consumer price increases
Drought: How Does It Impact Us?
†Deaths associated with drought are the result of heat waves. (Not all droughts are accompanied by extreme heat waves.)
Drought: A Wicked Problem
When does it start?
When does it end?
WMO CAgM Drought Expert Team (2018)
Drought: A Wicked Problem
Interconnected impacts on different sectors
When does it start?
When does it end?
USDA Livestock Forage
Program drought payments
2011-2017: USD $6.6 billion
Drought: A Wicked Problem
Interconnected impacts on different sectors
When does it start?
When does it end?
Challenging to manage
What is the National Integrated
Drought Information System (NIDIS)?
• Authorized by Congress in 2006 and re-authorized 2014.
• Interagency mandate to develop and provide a national
drought early warning information system.
“Enable the Nation to move from a reactive to a more
proactive approach to managing drought risks and impacts.”
What is “Early Warning”?
Provision of timely and effective information, through
identified institutions, that allows individuals exposed to a
hazard to take action to avoid or reduce their risk and
prepare for effective response.1
1International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Components of a
Drought Early Warning System (DEWS)
NIDIS has 9 Regional Drought Early
Warning Systems (DEWS)
(public, private, NGOs,
and priorities for the
five components of a
Missouri River Basin
Benefits of Regional DEWS
• As a large-scale natural
hazard that affects all
sectors, drought requires
• Leverage partnerships:
federal, regional, cross-
state, across sectors.
– Pool expertise and resources
– Avoid duplication
• Share best practices across
states/sectors for drought
• Reduce potential conflict
over water resources.
• Support scaling of
innovations – pilot projects
expanding to the state or
U.S. Drought Monitor
drought indices to
come up with the
drought for the U.S.
Provides narrative by
Thursday at 8am EDT
State Pages: Drought.gov
A snapshot of current
drought in the state
Curated list of
• Temperature and precipitation
– 6-10 day
– 8-14 day
– One month
– Seasonal (3 month)
– Monthly outlook
– Seasonal outlook
Drought Planning Resources
Drought Ready Communities
• A community-driven process for
reducing vulnerability to drought.
• Includes worksheets and other
• Recommends planning response
Managing Drought Risk on the
• Help rangeland managers develop
a solid plan of action for
situations (like drought) that lead
to forage shortages.
Available from NDMC at:
2017 Northern Plains Drought
• Understand Impacts
• Actions Taken
• Lessons Learned & Best
• Examine Causes
• Historical Context
Drought Response & Communication
“…shall communicate drought
forecasts, drought conditions,
and drought impacts on an
ongoing basis to public and
- NIDIS Public Law
North Central U.S. Monthly
Climate & Drought Webinars
Third Thursday of the month at 1pm Central
To register: ask me how!
Coordinate and Integrate Research and
Monitoring in Support of:
Drought preparedness and resilience through
engagement, networking, and collaboration.
Scientific research in drought forecasting,
monitoring, and predictions.
Analysis and assessment of past drought events
to inform effective drought response.
@DroughtGov & @ClimateMolly National Integrated Drought
Missouri River Basin DEWS
Midwest coordinator – located in Champaign, IL.
Drought has always been a part of the climate of the central United States. This figure shows what is called the Palmer Drought Severity Index for the Ohio Valley going back to 1895 – the negative or orange values show times of drought, while the positive or green values show when conditions have been wetter than normal.
The drought of record for many locations remains the exceptional drought conditions experienced in the early 1930s (CLICK). There were also significant droughts in the 1940s, 50s, 60s. A notable drought in recent memory for many is the drought of 1988. And despite a trend towards wetter conditions in recent decades, the most recent severe drought in the central US was in 2012 – when there was an estimated $30 billion dollars in damages and over 120 deaths in the United States.
Looking into the future – drought will continue to be a part of our climate here in the central US. The information shown on this slide comes from the just released 2018 National Climate Assessment that Jim Angel just talked about earlier this morning.
Overall – climate models are showing an increased likelihood for higher annual precipitation on average for this region. However – this is just an average. This does not capture those years or seasons or stretches of months that will have above-normal OR below-normal precipitation.
In fact, looking at the climate model projections for summer precipitation shows an increased likelihood for decreased precipitation in the summer months – which is a key time for when precipitation is needed in the Midwest for agriculture.
In addition – CLICK – the National Climate Assessment also states that for much of the US, surface soil moisture is projected to decrease as the climate warms. This is due to the fact that there will be higher evaporation from the surface due to the warmer temperatures. So with everything else being equal – future droughts in most regions will likely be stronger and potentially last longer than today.
So while the character of drought may shift in our region in the future – we know that drought will be a part of our future here in the Midwest and we need to continue to prepare for its impacts.
The impacts from drought are those related to economic losses – like crop and livestock production, or the recreational industry. CLICK. Drought also threatens our water supplies - not only for municipal water use, but also for industries and navigation along major river channels.
CLICK. There is also environmental damage from drought – whether that is negatively affecting an ecosystem due to reduced resources that they rely upon, or a resulting factor like wildfire.
CLICK. Human health is also impacted by drought. This can be through water or air quality – and also mental health, for instance of farmers and the negative impact drought can have on their livelihood. CLICK. There are cultural impacts – to tribal customs and practices, or also to recreational activities that take place across the region.
CLICK. Overall – the economic impacts of drought can have a ripple effect and in the end make consumer prices increase.
According to the National Centers for Environmental Information – or NCEI – despite the trend towards wetter conditions in much of the United States, drought has been the 2nd costliest natural disaster for the US since 1980. It is behind tropical cyclones. The average event cost for drought is $9.6 billion dollars, placing it third for individual event cost after tropical cyclones and severe storms.
For those involved in drought response or planning – or those just generally aware of it’s impacts – you likely know that drought is a complicated natural hazard to deal with. Why is this?
Well first – one issue is that there are multiple definitions for the various types of drought. There is meteorological drought, which focuses on the precipitation deficit, there is agricultural drought – which is when soil moisture is insufficient and results in the lack of crop growth and production. There is also hydrological drought, socioeconomic and ecological drought.
Clearly understanding what type of drought is occurring – and what the expect as a result of this drought – is challenging to say the least.
In addition – CLICK. There is the question of – when does drought start? And, when does it end?
A location may start out with some abnormally dry conditions – maybe starts to see some impacts from drought like low soil moisture, lower streamflow, etc. But, when does drought TRULY start?
And if you are in the middle of drought – when is there enough precipitation or recovery to officially say drought is over? Subtle drought impacts can linger for a few years – if conditions were never FULLY recovered – and that can exacerbate conditions the next time it starts to get dry again.
Also – CLICK – there is the interconnection of impacts on different sectors.
For instance – CLICK – agriculture often feels the impact of drought first. However, when water levels get low on major river channels - CLICK – this can impact navigation, which may be carrying those agricultural goods.
CLICK – water resources also see varying impacts from drought. Whether this is municipal water supply – water for irrigation – or water needed to experience the same level of tourism and recreation in a certain area.
CLICK These factors combined – along with the fact that drought can occur on differing scales….either geographic or time scales – makes drought a very challenging natural hazard to manage.
With all of these challenges in mind - the National Integrated Drought Information System – or NIDIS - was created as a recognition that better informed and more timely drought-related decisions lead to reduced impacts and costs.
NIDIS was first authorized by Congress in 2006 and re-authorized again on 2014 - and our goal is to help the country to move from a reactive to a more proactive approach to managing drought risks and impacts.
We are mandated by Congress to develop and provide a NATIONAL drought early warning information system with other agencies from the federal to local level.
The logos on this screen represent some of the agencies and programs involved with NIDIS – whether it’s with our Executive Council and Working groups at the national level, to partners at the regional level in our various Drought Early Warning Systems across the country.
As I mentioned – NIDIS is mandated by Congress to develop a national drought early warning system. What exactly does this mean? Let’s break it down by first looking at the definition for “early warning”….
According to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, early warning is the provision of timely and effective information that allows individuals exposed to a hazard to take action to avoid or reduce their risk – and prepare for effective response.
Early warning may mean different things for different people – it will depend on the region, state, and also the sector. What early warning is for the shipping industry will differ from early warning for farmers and livestock producers. Also, early warning for the Western states is different than early warning for the Midwest.
However, in the end – early warning is ensuring that stakeholders have the information they need to make more informed decisions to reduce negative impacts and costs.
When we put this definition in context of drought – what does a DROUGHT early warning system mean?
This slide shows the 5 key components of what makes up a drought early warning system. What those pieces of information are that people need to make more informed decisions.
Observations and monitoring of conditions – whether it’s in the atmosphere, on or under the ground – are extremely important to be aware of the situation at hand for drought. Stakeholders also need to have reliable forecasts for the future – for instance, is drought expected this upcoming growing season? Or, when will my current drought conditions ease up a little?
Planning and preparedness is very important for drought early warning – by having plans in place, a stakeholder or entity is able to effectively monitor and know how they will respond to drought if needed.
There is also the question of drought research – what are some of the key research questions for drought that we need scientists to help us find an answer to? And, how can we apply the results of this research in the field?
And finally – a continuous dialogue of communication and outreach to stakeholders of all of this information is imperative to establishing an early warning system.
In an effort to build out the NATIONAL drought early warning system as tasked to NIDIS by Congress, we are approaching this by taking a regional approach, due to the variations in the character of drought from one region to the other, and resulting needs of the stakeholders.
To date, NIDIS has established 9 regional DEWS across the country. The western U.S. has been covered, and now the eastern U.S. has some DEWS established and more will be in the future.
One of the strong components of our regional DEWS is the network coordination. Within each of the DEWS, we have a network of people from various levels – the public sector from the federal level down to the local level, NGOs, academia, the private sector, and other programs and organizations. These networks in each region provide us a unique look at the needs and perspectives of stakeholders in the region around the five components of the DEWS that we just looked at on the previous screen. Through meetings and workshops – and other stakeholder engagement – our network in each of the DEWS has identified priorities and activities for each region to advance drought early warning. CLICK – For each of the DEWS, these priorities and activities are laid out in a Strategic Plan, which are available on drought.gov.
Just a quick look at the coordinators across the country for NIDIS.
CLICK – I wanted to highlight the two for the central US – which is myself, I am the coordinator for the Midwest DEWS. I’m located in Champaign, Illinois at the University of Illinois.
Britt Parker is the coordinator for the Missouri River Basin. She’s located at the NIDIS program office, which is in Boulder, Colorado.
There are many benefits of these regional DEWS and having it focus on the network of people and coordinated priorities and activities.
First – with drought a large-scale natural hazard that affects many sectors, it requires a large-scale integrated response. Having these regional networks in place allows for this increased coordination.
Also – we are able to leverage our partnerships across levels, state, and sectors. We can pool our expertise and resources, as well as avoid duplication. Along these same lines, we can share best practices across states and sectors for drought management.
With increasing partnerships – we could potentially reduce conflict over water resources. Or coordinate together to deal with water limitation issues.
Finally – we can support the scaling of innovations. One strong component of the DEWS is that we support pilot projects for drought early warning that could be expanded to the state or regional level.
What I want to do with the rest of my time here today is to give you some examples of resources that fall under each of these components of an early warning system, which may be helpful to you in your own work with stakeholders across your state or county.
I will not be able to extensively cover the resources or information available for each of these components today – so I’d be happy to talk with anyone after if you want more information on a particular topic.
Also – I am focusing on resources that are currently available for these topics. However, there are some neat efforts going on in the Midwest and MRB for each of these components that I am not sharing since they are still in development – but would be happy to talk more after as well about those.
First up for Observations and Monitoring is the US Drought Monitor, which I would venture to guess that many of you have heard of this resource.
The U.S. Drought Monitor is pretty much the “go to” map that provides the current snapshot of drought in the country. The authors of the drought monitor use multiple drought indices like precipitation, streamflow, groundwater, and over 40 other indicators to come up with this map on a weekly basis. It is released every Thursday at 8am Eastern.
This map is tied to several federal programs – including the USDA relief programs for drought.
As I mentioned on the previous slide – the US Drought Monitor authors use several drought indicators to produce the Drought Monitor every week. However, there is an additional layer to the creation of the US Drought Monitor which is an email network of over 400 people that provide feedback and impacts to the authors of the Drought Monitor each week. These people are used to ground truth the data, and to provide one more “piece of the puzzle” for the Drought Monitor authors. [Emphasize convergence of evidence]
As a stakeholder and especially Extension – this conversation is one that you can become a part of - whether it’s part of this larger network, or – there are several states that have “sub-networks” for feedback to the Drought Monitor. This typically comes from some coordinating body in the state – like the state DNR or another agency – that discusses drought conditions for the state and provides feedback as a unit to the Drought Monitor authors.
If you are curious as to whether such a sub-network exists in your state, please feel free to talk to me.
A resource that I thought would be useful to you are the recently redesigned state pages on drought.gov.
These pages give a snapshot of current drought in the state with the Drought Monitor – it also provides at the top the total population in drought. [Maybe mention counties and crop information]
These pages also provide a historical drought perspective – what is the longest stretch of drought in the state? Or the most severe?
The pages also provide a curated list of predictive, historical, and state-based drought tools.
These new pages are a great starting point to monitor drought in your state.
Now moving onto the 2nd component – predictions and forecasting.
Having reliable outlooks for the future is important for drought management. The main source for official outlook information is the Climate Prediction Center or CPC with NOAA. CPC has outlooks for temperature and precipitation at various time scales – including to the seasonal scale. In addition, there are drought outlooks for the upcoming month and season.
NIDIS is continuously investing resources to improve these outlooks in the future by looking at new methods or new ways to display this information. So hopefully down the road, there will be some increased accuracy with the outlooks.
There is a lot going on with drought planning right now – and new and innovate drought planning resources are being worked on as we speak.
However – there are some already existing great resources out there for drought planning.
The first is a publication called “Drought Ready Communities”, which is a guide from the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) and partners - that lays out a community-driven process for reducing vulnerability to drought. This guide includes worksheets and other exercises, and it also recommends planning response actions.
In addition, the NDMC has also created a guidebook for managing drought risk on the ranch. This is meant to help rangeland managers develop a solid plan of action for situations – like drought – that lead to forage shortages.
These resources – along with some case studies of communities or ranches that have used these resources – are available on the planning page from NDMC’s website (on the screen).
An example of interdisciplinary research and applications that NIDIS supported is an impact assessment and attribution study of the 2017 Northern Plains drought. The impact assessment will be released soon – and looks at understand the impacts, the actions taken and best practices or lessons learned from the drought response.
The attribution study was a scientific study that looked at the cause, predictability, and historical context of the exceptional drought in this region.
By better understanding the causes, impacts, and lessons learned from previous droughts – we can incorporate this into drought planning in order to better prepare for the next drought.
Finally – the last component which is communication and outreach. It is imperative that NIDIS and our partners communicate information on drought conditions, forecasts, and impacts on an ongoing basis.
When a region is IN drought – we typically pick up our communication to push out more critical information to stakeholders, in coordination with our partners. The logos of the partners we collaborate with on a regular basis to provide this information are on the screen.
A new avenue we’ve been using to communicate drought conditions are through what we call “Drought Status Updates”. These are 2 page documents that quickly summarize the key points of a drought – we talk about the current conditions, impacts, and outlook – and we also put together a few key messages for the region on what these conditions and outlooks mean for the region. We release these to our DEWS contact lists, but also have been pushing them out through the media and also some legislative offices in the affected states as well.
Another component of communication and outreach for this region is through a regular monthly webinar led by Doug Kluck at NOAA and Dennis Todey at the USDA. They pull in partners from across the region to present every month on the current status of climate and drought in the North Central Region. They look at the current conditions, impacts, and the outlook for the upcoming few months.
These webinars happen every third Thursday of the month at 1pm Central. If you’d like to register for these, please ask me how!
To conclude: NIDIS’s goal is to integrate the 5 components of the drought early warning system to advance drought science and preparedness in the country.
We strengthen drought preparedness and resilience through engagement, networking, and collaboration.
NIDIS advances scientific research in drought forecasting, monitoring, and predictions – and we value the importance of assessment of past events to inform effect drought response in the future.
Finally – I encourage you to get involved in your DEWS – whether that is with me in the Midwest, or working with Britt in the Missouri River Basin. We have mailing lists and other efforts that we can chat with you about if you are interested.
The Strategic Plans for the Midwest and MRB are available on our DEWS pages on drought.gov – which once again lays out the priorities and activities for each region. The Midwest Strategic Plan was just released this year and goes through the end of 2019 – while the MRB plan is going through an update right now, with the goal to have it out in early 2019.
I’m happy to take any questions if you have them! Thank you!