The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) program was authorized by Congress in 2006 (Public Law 109-430) with an interagency mandate to coordinate and integrate drought research, building upon existing federal, tribal, state, and local partnerships in support of creating a national drought early warning information system.
A Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) utilizes new and existing partner networks to optimize the expertise of a wide range of federal, tribal, state, local and academic partners in order to make climate and drought science readily available, easily understandable and usable for decision makers; and to improve the capacity of stakeholders to better monitor, forecast, plan for and cope with the impacts of drought.
NIDIS’ goal is to improve the nation’s capacity to manage drought-related risks by providing the best available information and tools to assess the potential impacts of drought, and to prepare for and mitigate the effects of drought. Toward that end, NIDIS seeks to create a DEWS for the nation.
Together with federal, state, local, tribal and private sector partners, NIDIS:
- develops the leadership and partnerships to ensure successful implementation of an integrated national drought monitoring and forecasting system at federal, state, and local levels;
- collects and integrates information on the key indicators of drought in order to make usable, reliable, and timely forecasts and assessments of drought, including assessments of its severity and impacts;
- fosters and supports a research environment that focuses on risk assessment, forecasting, and management;
- provides accurate, timely, and integrated information on drought conditions and associated risks to facilitate proactive decision-making; and
- offers a framework for increasing public awareness and education on how and why droughts occur, and how they impact human and natural systems.
Developing a national DEWS is a challenge. Drought in Maine looks different from drought in New Mexico. When seeking indicators of drought, a place which depends on snowpack for its annual water supply must monitor different factors from a place where liquid precipitation determines the hydrology. And local economies, resources and values influence the responses of government, business, and the public to drought prediction, conditions and aftermath.
NIDIS’ approach to building the foundation of a national DEWS has been to develop regional DEWS, where networks of researchers, academics, resource managers, policymakers and other stakeholders share information and actions that help communities cope with drought. Learn more about NIDIS regional DEWS programs here.
How NIDIS came about
In 1996, the Western Governors Association (WGA) sought to change the way the U.S. prepared for and responded to droughts. Their efforts paved the way for Congress to enact Public Law 105-199, the National Drought Policy Act in July 1998. This law established “an advisory commission to provide advice and recommendations on the creation of an integrated, coordinated Federal policy designed to prepare for and respond to serious drought emergencies.” The law established the National Drought Policy Commission and directed them to “conduct a thorough study and submit a report on national drought policy.”
That report, Preparing for Drought in the 21st Century, published in 2000, concluded that the U.S. would benefit from development of a policy with preparedness as its core. Furthermore, the report encouraged partnerships among federal as well as non-federal governments and private interests to develop tools and strategies for formulating and carrying out appropriate drought preparedness strategies. The commission concluded that, at the time, federal programs lacked a coordinated approach to delivery of drought-related services. They called for more efficient, effective, and timely practices to be put in place.
In 2003, the WGA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began discussing a partnership to develop a vision and recommendations for establishing an improved drought monitoring and forecasting system. Through this partnership, a team of more than 80 scientists, researchers, policymakers, and resource managers worked together to produce Creating A Drought Early Warning System for the 21st Century: The National Integrated Drought Information System. Recommendations from that report were key to the creation of Public Law 109-430, the NIDIS Act, authorized by Congress in December of 2006, and reauthorized in 2014.
Meanwhile the NIDIS Implementation Team had been conducting workshops and meetings with federal, state and local agencies, academic researchers, and other stakeholders, including a conference in Colorado, Managing Drought and Water Scarcity in Vulnerable Environments: Creating a Roadmap for Change in the United States, sponsored by the Geological Society of America (GSA) and twenty other scientific and technical organizations. The original NIDIS Implementation Plan grew out of information gleaned from these activities.
The plan outlined how NIDIS would:
- Develop the leadership and networks to implement an integrated drought monitoring and forecasting system at federal, state, and local levels
- Foster and support a research environment focusing on risk assessment, forecasting, and management
- Create an “early warning system” for drought to provide accurate, timely, and integrated information
- Develop interactive systems, such as drought.gov, as part of the early warning system
- Provide a framework for public awareness and education about droughts
As of December 2016, NIDIS updated its Implementation Plan to reflect the second phase of NIDIS development and deployment as reauthorized by Congress in 2014. It details NIDIS’s evolution and lessons learned in moving towards a national drought early warning information system, and highlights the thoughtful feedback and participation of NIDIS’s partners.
NIDIS consultation process
NIDIS is an interagency partnership housed at NOAA. The program office is at NOAA’s David Skaggs Research Center in Boulder, Colorado, and the NIDIS website, drought.gov, is managed through the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina.
At the core of NIDIS are its partnerships throughout the country. NIDIS activities take place nationwide and at all levels of government and community, from the 2012 National Drought Forum in Washington D.C. to the Engagement Workshop for Northeast Kansas Tribes. NIDIS supports a spectrum of drought research, from measuring the extent of fallowed lands in California to examining the salinity of the estuaries on the Carolina coast. Its planning strategies come through undertakings such as drought “tournament” simulation exercises and support for the American Planning Association’s guide, Planning and Drought.
You’ll find who’s who at the Program Office and Executive Council on the Who We Are page.