A drought is a prolonged period of below-average precipitation that causes a water deficit in a particular area. Droughts can occur anywhere in the United States and can vary in duration considerably. The duration of a drought and its severity depend on a number of compounding factors, including precipitation, soil moisture, stream flow, groundwater and reservoir levels, agricultural health, local geography, and snowpack. Humans also play an important role in drought through factors such as water demand and water management. With such a high number of compounding factors, predicting droughts is an extremely difficult task. At this time, scientists can accurately predict drought conditions only one month in advance. The U.S. Drought Monitor is currently one of the most accurate tools for drought monitoring and is updated weekly to reflect drought conditions across the country.
The severity and physical characteristics of a drought vary drastically from region to region. For example, the average yearly precipitation in some areas of the Southwest can be as little as 3 inches, whereas the average precipitation in some areas of the Northwest can be as much as 150 inches a year. Resultantly, drought and the impacts that it can have in these two areas vary drastically. Despite this, droughts can be categorized into four common types. These types include meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic droughts. Each of these drought types is discussed in more detail below:
- Meteorological Drought: based on the rainfall deficit and the length of the dry period. This type of drought usually precedes all other types of drought and is highly variable from region to region.
- Hydrological Drought: based on the effects of precipitation deficits on the water supply. This includes streamflow, reservoir and lake levels, and groundwater levels.
- Agricultural Drought: based on the impacts of meteorological or hydrological drought on agriculture. This type of drought takes into account a number of factors including, soil moisture levels, groundwater levels, and reservoir levels.
- Socioeconomic Drought: based on the impact of drought on the supply and demand of economic goods. This type of drought occurs when the demand for a good exceeds its supply as a direct result of meteorological, hydrological, or agricultural drought.
Often profound and widespread, the effects of drought can have a number of economic, environmental, and social impacts on the affected region. The consequences of drought vary widely depending on the severity and duration of the drought. Some of the consequences of drought can include decreased agricultural production, higher food production costs, decreased power output from hydroelectric dams, and increased conflicts over water use and water management policies. Droughts can also increase the risk of natural disasters such as wildfires, flash floods, and debris flows. Due to the complex nature of drought, it is often hard to measure its impacts on affected communities and ecosystems. As a result, the National Drought Mitigation Center created the Drought Impact Reporter to better understand the effects of drought. The first of its kind, this database collects and displays reports of drought and allows users to view an interactive map that displays drought information from across the country.
Before a Drought
There are a number of actions that you can take before a water shortage to lessen the effects of a drought. These strategies primarily involve water conservation and incorporating them into your daily routine will help to preserve water for future use. Some of these actions are listed below.
- Never pour unused water down the drain. Consider other uses for it such as watering your indoor or outdoor plants.
- Fix dripping faucets and contact a plumber to fix any leaky pipes.
- Wash only full loads of clothes and dishes.
- Limit your showers to less than five minutes and turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth.
- Consider planting drought-resistant plants and trees in your yard.
- Water your lawn only when necessary and consider watering it in several short sessions rather than a long single session to allow your lawn to better absorb the moisture.
- Install water efficient irrigation devices and ensure that they are positioned properly.
- Use a broom to sweep off outdoor areas.
Visit Ready.gov or the Save Our Water website for more tips on conserving water.
During a Drought
It is absolutely vital that you follow all state and local restrictions on water use during a drought. Restrictions can include limitations on activities such as watering your lawn or washing your car. By following all state and local restrictions, you can reduce demand on your local water supply and help to ensure that there is enough water for essential and emergency use.
There are a number of other concerns that should be addressed during a drought. One such concern is dust. Prolonged periods of dry weather typical of drought can lead to increases in dust and other particulate matter in the air. This can cause health problems for some individuals with preexisting health conditions.
Additionally, chemical pesticides and fertilizers also pose a concern during periods of drought. These chemicals, especially those in dry form, can be blown by the wind or even accumulate during dry periods and later be washed away in high concentrations into drinking water or waterways. As a result, it is important that individuals follow manufacturer’s instructions when applying these substances.
Wildfires also pose a major threat to the public during droughts. Extended periods of decreased rainfall lead to drier conditions that promote ignition and accelerate the growth of wildfires. Resultantly, you should follow all burn restrictions and take precautions when recreating in areas prone to wildfires.
Drought in Klamath County
Located east of the Cascades and largely dependent on winter snowpack, Klamath County is particularly susceptible to drought. The scarcity of water during drought also makes water management policies a particularly controversial issue in the area. Historically, Klamath County has declared disaster for drought more than any other county in the state. This makes drought a major concern for residents of the county. As a result, it is crucial that citizens take the proper actions in order to reduce demand on the limited local water supply.