Guest Commentary: NOAA Resources Help Communities to Meet Current and Future Drought Challenges

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration advances powerful tools to help water districts and utilities address climate variability

NIDIS consolidates data on drought’s physical, hydrological, and socio-economic impacts to enable proactive planning. The goal of NIDIS is to develop and coordinate research, leadership and networks across Federal, state and tribal agencies and the private sector, to integrate drought monitoring and forecasting and to create drought early warning information systems. This information is housed on the drought portal ( and shared through regionally-specific outlooks and stakeholder partnerships. Tools available online include map and data viewers of current drought conditions, drought indicators and drought forecasts. NIDIS works with states and communities to ensure that information on the portal and other sources are accessible and usable through workshops, scientific research updates, regional drought outlook forums, and public webinars.  By providing this vital information to water managers, farmers, and fire responders, well-informed and timely drought-related decisions can reduce impacts and costs.

2013 California Wildfires

2013 California Wildfires

NOAA drought early warning information systems cross several regions from river basins in the West, agricultural producers in the Midwest, to coastal communities in the east. Different regions experience and respond to drought in different ways. For example, in the Carolinas, drought effects go beyond the surface water supply agricultural—decision makers have coastal ecosystems with their own habitats, commercial and protected species, and estuarine processes to consider. Drought contributes to increased salinity and saltwater intrusion, reduced flushing in streams and increased assimilation of pollutants, and overall water quality changes.  Ecosystem impacts include habitat loss and effects on the distribution and migration patterns of local species. While in the West, drought impacts are snowmelt driven, impacting seasonal water supply and wildfire risk.

NIDIS as a climate information system relies on the applied research and decision support of the RISAs, NOAA forecast improvements, and weather and climate observing systems. Because drought can have varied regional impacts, RISAs are based across the country and NIDIS has established multiple unique regional drought early warning systems and programs, so that each receives and coordinates relevant information and support.