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Assessing Drought in a Changing Climate: December 6, 2023

Event Date
December 6, 2023
Event Time
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

How will climate change affect how we assess drought? How can we assess if a drought was made worse because of a warming climate? This webinar, hosted by NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) and National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), focused on challenges in assessing and communicating drought conditions in a changing climate. The presentations and feedback received during this webinar will help NWS to develop practical field office guidance for messaging drought in a changing climate, based on the best available science.



Speakers: Meredith Muth, National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS); Maggie Hurwitz, National Weather Service



State of the Science Overview

Speaker: Dr. Joel Lisonbee, NOAA/NIDIS, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)/University of Colorado Boulder

  • Climate change is making drought assessment more difficult. 
  • The climate of the Northeast U.S. is getting wetter with less winter precipitation.
  • The climate of the West and Southwest U.S. is getting hotter and drier.
    • The Western U.S. drought from 2020–2021 was the hottest drought period on record for that part of the country, and analogous to the hotter and drier droughts we’re likely to experience in 2030-2050.
  • To better understand drought in a changing climate, NIDIS and the USDA Climate Hubs hosted a workshop on the topic in early 2023. Read the technical report from that workshop, Drought Assessment in a Changing Climate: Priority Actions and Research Needs.
  • NCA5: Drought and climate change in 10 maps
  • For more information, contact Joel Lisonbee. 



Monitoring and Communicating Drought in a Changing Climate

Speaker: Arin Peters, NWS Western Region Hydrology Program Manager

  • The role and responsibility of the National Weather Service in drought assessment and monitoring is extremely important and is only growing in the face of a changing climate.
  • Taking a holistic approach to assessing drought and including all metrics available, while recognizing the seasonal and spatial variability of their effectiveness, is a best practice.
  • Learning our partners’ thresholds, challenges, and impacts will help us improve our drought Impact-Based Decision Support Services (IDSS).
    • This has to be done at the field office level to capture regional differences in drought severity and impacts.
  • Effectively communicating uncertainty is critical.
    • Utilizing probabilistic messaging wherever possible is key.
    • Taking advantage of new tools such as the modernized Drought Information Statement (DGT) will assist National Weather Service field offices in communicating with partners.
  • For more information about the modernized Drought Information Statement, see the recording of Improving Local Drought Awareness and Messaging Using New NWS Drought Information Statements (August 28, 2023).
  • For more information, contact Arin Peters.



Attribution and Uncertainty of Droughts: Attribution Studies Inform Drought Early Warning

Speaker: Andy Hoell, NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory

  • Attribution studies diagnose characteristics and causes of a drought, which may include climate change and/or natural effects.
  • Outcomes from attribution studies can support early warning of future droughts and provide context to evaluate drought response.
  • Detection:
    • Identify characteristics in observations
    • Develop hypotheses for their causes
  • Attribution:
    • Test robustness of characteristics using climate models
    • Test hypotheses for their causes using climate models
  • In a Southeast Alaska attribution study, models indicate that the observed drought event was more likely because climate change had increased regional temperature; however, climate change did not affect precipitation in the region.
  • For more information, contact Andy Hoell



Attribution and Uncertainty of Droughts: Southeast Alaska Drought: 2018–2020

Speaker: Brian Brettschneider, NWS Anchorage, Alaska 

  • Droughts in Alaska look and feel different than those in the continental U.S. because of different land use in Alaska and because drought impacts are primarily to fisheries, transportation, and hydropower.
  • Annual snowfall has dramatically decreased in Southeast Alaska in past decades. Snowmelt in the summer is critical for maintaining lake levels that enable hydropower and transportation in the region.
  • While the rainforests of Southeast Alaska were historically dry in 2018–2019, drought impacts weren’t obvious.
  • The National Weather Service in Alaska utilized extensive engagement with impacted communities to communicate about this drought, often in partnership with regional entities. 
  • For more information, contact Brian Brettschneider. 



Q&A and Closing

Speaker: Maggie Hurwitz, NWS