Farmers, ranchers, and water resource managers in North America will have more time to prepare for potentially damaging drought conditions thanks to a new
early warning product now available online.
Developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its partners, including the University of Maryland, The Evaporative Stress Index (ESI) provides drought warnings several weeks ahead of most other currently available drought indicators. By detecting the advance signals of plant stress, including dry soils, decreased plant transpiration and warming land temperature, ESI can raise the alarm before plants visibly dry out and lose their green appearance.
The new product represents many years of research and support by NOAA, NASA, the University of Maryland, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Wisconsin, and the National Drought Mitigation Center.
NASA contributed funds for the research phase, and after ESI showed promise as a useful tool for decision-makers, NOAA stepped in to continue building out ESI as an operational product, with UMD/ESSIC managing the development of the system and serving as a central point of collaboration for NOAA, NASA, USDA and end user partners.
Transitioning from a research project to NOAA operations provides end users with a robust support environment so that farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders have access to timely and reliable data, Hain explained.
“As a researcher, your work is only as good as someone else’s ability to use it. So for any effort like this, operational use is the ideal end goal,” Hain added. “Getting to this point with ESI is a testimony to its need in the drought community. NOAA essentially decided ESI is a useful product that was worth making available to the community.”
The GET-D system’s early warning potential shows great promise for rapid onset droughts, also called flash droughts. Flash droughts reach their peak intensity within weeks and usually occur during the growing season, whereas typical droughts can take months or even years to develop. Their quick onset makes flash droughts particularly devastating to farmers and ranchers who have less time to respond to the damaging conditions.
During the devastating 2012 Central Great Plains flash drought, ESI developers observed, for the first time, a rapid change in the ESI in real time. Although ESI was still in the research phase at this time, the observations served as strong evidence that ESI could provide valuable early warning to farmers, ranchers and water managers. The ESI outperformed other indicators by several weeks, suggesting moderate to severe drought conditions well before the U.S. Drought Monitor, for example.
“Droughts are one of the most common and devastating natural disasters, affecting communities across our nation,” said Mark Svoboda, co-founder of the U.S. Drought Monitor. “This new product will help communities spot and prepare for flash droughts, which come on quickly and take a heavy toll on businesses and the public.”
ESI development was funded in part by the NASA Applied Sciences Program, as well as the NOAA Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections and Societal Applications Research Programs.
September 28, 2016