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Practical Applications of Soil Moisture Information

Event Date
March 29, 2022
Event Time
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and the National Weather Service (NWS) hosted two webinars on soil moisture data and applications. These webinars were intended to help NWS operational forecasters and other weather & climate service providers better understand soil moisture monitoring and its practical applications.

The first webinar, held on February 22, 2022, provided an overview of soil moisture monitoring and interpretation, including a review of the three main techniques for estimating soil moisture conditions: in situ ground-based systems, satellite measurements, and land surface model outputs.

This second webinar, on March 29, 2022, featured presentations from climate service professionals on how soil moisture informs their decision making

This webinar series was sponsored in part by the National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network. For more information, please email Marina Skumanich (



Speaker: Marina Skumanich, NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System



Using Soil Moisture to Develop the U.S. Drought Monitor Map

Speaker: Richard Heim, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information

Watch This Presentation

  • What is the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), and how is it done?
    • USDM is a composite product produced weekly. It is a map and narrative depiction of current drought conditions.
    • Drought conditions are depicted as percentile-based categoriesPercentiles relate current drought conditions to historical probability of occurrence.
    • Dozens (~ 50) of drought indices, indicators, and data products (can be hundreds of individual maps) are examined each week.
    • Field observations and expert input from > 400 partners nationwide.
    • 3-day window: Monday–Wednesday.
  • What data are used to prepare the USDM?
    • USDM authors utilize soil moisture data from a variety of sources:
      • Satellite-derived products
      • Modeled products
      • In-situ observations from mesonets
  • How can soil moisture products best be used to feed the USDM?
    • Soil moisture data should be presented in units that are relatable to the USDM Dx categories.
    • Display the data in a graphical/map form that is easily digestible at a quick glance.
    • Ideally, provide in a GIS format importable into ArcMap mxd.



How Soil Moisture Informs the U.S. Drought Outlooks

Speaker: Brad Pugh, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center

Watch This Presentation

  • How Is Soil Moisture Used in Prediction?
    • The Monthly and Seasonal Drought Outlooks use the U.S. Drought Monitor as a starting point for forecasting: persistence, improvement, or removal.
    • Soil moisture initial conditions are important in targeting areas for development, but large changes can occur on a seasonal time scale.
    • More relevant in a monthly drought outlook when initial conditions such as soil moisture and skillful temperature outlooks can best be used.
    • CPC is implementing a flash drought risk to its week-2 hazards.
    • During the warm season, especially May–August, anomalous soil moisture can influence surface temperature, and it’s used in CPC’s week 3-4, monthly, and seasonal temperature outlooks.
    • CPC also uses a constructed analog, derived from soil moisture, in its monthly and seasonal outlooks.
  • Ongoing/Future Work
    • Soil moisture monitoring:
      • Producing near real-time land surface monitoring maps based on Noah and Noah-MP.
      • Developing atmospheric forcings from the early or mid 20th century.
        • Close the 4-day latency of NLDAS-2 forcings; Extend back to early/mid 20th century.
    • Soil moisture prediction:
      • Preparing subseasonal and seasonal soil moisture forecasts using Noah and Noah-MP. 
      • Contributing to the development of probabilistic subseasonal and seasonal drought outlooks at CPC.
      • Produced by driving LSMs offline with bias-corrected and calibrated dynamical meteorological forecasts.



Using Soil Moisture for State-Level Drought Monitoring

Speaker: Laura Edwards, South Dakota State Climatologist

Watch This Presentation

  • South Dakota drought monitoring efforts:
    • Weekly email discussions among state climatologist, state fire meteorologist, National Weather Service staff (3 offices), state geologist, and state water rights staff provide recommendations to the U.S. Drought Monitor authors.
    • Governor's office decides on/around May 1 to activate the Drought Task Force for the season/year. The U.S. Drought Monitor can sometimes help bring attention to this issue (especially D2 or worse).
    • South Dakota State University Extension teams communicate year-round on agriculture (crops and livestock) and natural resource management and do their own programming (meetings, webinars, media, etc.).
    • In a small state, communication can be fast.
    • Keep lines open to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offices in the state and USDA Climate Hubs.
  • There are places for modeled, remotely sensed, and in situ soil moisture data. We use all of them!
  • Soil temperature provides useful information in our northern climate.
  • Soil response to precipitation events and snow melt are dependent on soil type and temperature. We have a qualitative understanding but not quantitative.
  • The South Dakota Mesonet has some excellent tools, but more are on our wish list:
    • Improve data visualization to better illustrate changes in soil moisture over time, at various time intervals.
    • Go beyond volumetric water content and show plant available water.
    • Calibrate soil moisture measurement to the soil type.



Questions & Answers

Moderator: Maggie Hurwitz, NOAA's National Weather Service