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

For example, NIDIS worked with the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments RISA to support development of a Carolinas Drought Early Warning System, through NIDIS’ “Coping with Drought” research grants. During a 2012 scoping workshop, stakeholders from federal and state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and the private sector identified the top four regional priorities and issues of concern for drought in the Carolinas as (1) evaluation of drought indicators and indices, (2) a seafood safety forecast, (3) a drought forecasting communications program, and (4) drought impacts reporting. Now these identified projects are moving forward starting with the development of drought-sensitive salinity indicators with partners in the USGS and state offices.

Map of RISA programs across the U.S.

Map of RISA programs across the U.S.

Facing a different set of drought challenges, the California NIDIS Early Warning System Pilot and the California Nevada Applications Program RISA, have an extensive focus on forecasting wildfires that result from dry conditions in the region, as well as threats to well-plumbed systems in urban areas and multiple, linked reservoirs. Drought risk-management strategies in the California region require partnerships with agencies, industries, institutions, tribes, and other major stakeholders. NIDIS relied on the extensive network and applied research developed over a decade by the California-Nevada RISA as the basis from which to launch its regionally-specific early warning systems.  These projects are generating integrated information and resources for a range of decisions and early warning time frames, real-time on-the-ground use of NIDIS early warning information for reducing costs and impacts, and institutionalized resources and capabilities to reduce drought risks now and in the future.

We are already seeing behavioral changes in management styles and decision-making in regions experiencing the effects of drought, and NIDIS continues to receive a positive response from communities. Surveys of NIDIS stakeholders found significant increases in coordination and communication among managers, scientists  and stakeholders as a result of NIDIS, along with help implementing drought related strategies, plans, and programs. The availability of these tools, information, and drought forecasting and warning systems has positively impacted water supply, water quality, farming, public health, livestock, energy, recreation and tourism sectors.

Thanks to RISAs and NIDIS, societal awareness of climate risks such as drought are being infused into public arenas in more substantial ways, placing an emphasis on innovative methods for developing and delivering actionable knowledge, and growing closer to NOAA’s goal for our “Weather-Ready Nation.”

Dr. Robert Detrick serves as the assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

Images of Brazos River, Lake Hartwell, RISA program map and Dr. Detrick courtesy of NOAA. Image of California wildfire courtesy of the National Weather Service.