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Improving NOAA Climate Prediction Center Drought Outlook Products and Services

NIDIS Supported Research
NIDIS-Supported Research
Main Summary

The NOAA National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is the operational center that produces and delivers operational U.S. Drought Outlooks and services for the public. Currently, CPC produces and issues monthly and seasonal (3-month) drought outlooks on a monthly basis. These outlooks are deterministic and are produced subjectively by CPC drought forecasters based on their expert assessments. The products use national maps showing drought tendency at monthly and seasonal lead times for four categories: drought persists, drought remains but improves, drought removal likely, and drought development likely. Initialized using the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, the drought outlooks integrate short-term (<1 month) and long-lead (1–3 month) forecasts, climatologies and analogs, as well as feedback from stakeholders. During the production process, CPC drought forecasters consult with CPC extended range (week 2), week 3–4, and long-lead (monthly and seasonal) forecasters to ensure consistency and continuity between these outlooks.

As user needs evolve and science and technology advance, it is necessary for CPC to perform research and development to improve its drought prediction capability and products. Many users would like for the drought outlooks to be objective and reproducible, which would require the outlook production to be decoupled from subjectively produced drought monitoring products (e.g., the U.S. Drought Monitor). Furthermore, recent years have seen increasing user requests for probabilistic drought outlook products to facilitate decision making. There is also strong interest in predicting recently identified high-impact drought phenomena such as flash drought

Additionally, CPC needs to incorporate advancements for the drought outlook development, including those in drought monitoring and prediction science, dynamical forecast systems, dynamical tools (e.g., land surface models) and statistical tools. Before incorporating them in the CPC outlook development, robust evaluation and investigation are necessary in order to assess their performance and ensure they add value.

This project aims to improve CPC drought outlook products and services, with four objectives: 

  1. Task 1: Develop new probabilistic drought outlooks, including a Seasonal Drought Outlook, Monthly Drought Outlook, and Flash Drought Outlook. Learn more about this research.
  2. Task 2: Perform a process-oriented evaluation of subseasonal dynamical forecasts by assessing the extent to which the forecasts capture known sources of subseasonal drought predictability. Meanwhile, improve subseasonal land surface forecasts by utilizing the offline Noah-MultiParameterization (Noah-MP). Learn more about this research.
  3. Task 3: Improve the CPC deterministic drought outlooks by objectifying and automating the production process, as well as producing the outlooks for short-term and long-term drought in order to better address the needs of agricultural and hydrological users. Learn more about this research.
  4. Task 4: Improve the understandability and usability of the CPC drought outlooks, both deterministic and probabilistic, for users by testing improved visualizations of the outlooks. Learn more about this research.

For more information, please contact Amanda Sheffield (

Research Snapshot

Research Timeline
August 1, 2021 – March 31, 2024
Principal Investigator(s)

Jon Gottschalck and Dave DeWitt, NOAA Climate Prediction Center

Project Funding

What to expect from this research

This five-year collaboration between NIDIS and CPC aims to improve CPC drought outlook products and services. This includes improving existing deterministic drought outlooks, developing new probabilistic drought outlooks, and using social science findings to improve expert and public understanding of these products.

These outlook products will provide national and regional users with new and improved official NOAA forecasts of future drought conditions of up to 6 months and facilitate their decision making to prepare for and reduce drought-related impacts.

Key Regions

Research Scope