What does the drought monitor really show?

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– The drought monitor not only shows the drought across the state, but it is a tool used to determine some USDA drought disaster relief programs, such as Secretarial Disaster Declaration and FSA’s Livestock Forage Program. But, what data does it really show to determine the drought conditions?

They look at a lot of different indicators and data when preparing the state’s recommendations for the national drought monitor, Laura Edwards, State Climatologist for SDSU Extension said. These factors include:

  • Precipitation
  • Temperatures
  • Historical rankings
  • River levels
  • Soil moisture
  • Crop conditions
  • Water restrictions
  • Other things impacted by water such as recreation, fishing, tourism, businesses etc.

Edwards said they rely on a lot of different sources to collect all of this data. They use the SDSU Mesonet, The National Weather Service, the state’s CoCoRaHS, The United State Geological Survey, satellite data and The Department of Ag and Natural Resources. There are also other people who do model data.

“We look in every nook and cranny, every corner, of the state,” Edwards said.

They also look at this data on different time scales, Edwards said. The monitor is updated weekly, but they also look at the last 30, 60, 90 days, the season as a whole and the year so far to see what the short term drought issues are and what are some of the longer term drought concerns.

They now have enough data collected historically, that they are able to go back and say how rare and extreme the conditions actually are, she said.

“We’ve been dealing with ups and downs in the drought situation for a while, but certainly there is a lot of emphasis on the short term,” Edwards said.

June was very hot and very dry across the region and that has a significant impact today, she said.

There are a team of authors, around 12 of them, that rotate on the national scale to put together the drought monitor, Edwards said. They ultimately decide where the lines are drawn and determine the categories for each area.

Edwards works with a group of representatives from South Dakota that coordinate and make a recommendation, but the national level doesn’t always follow the state’s recommendations, depending on what data they see on their end.

“When you’re talking like D2, D3, D4, we are splitting hairs on how extreme is extreme,” Edwards said.

A D4 drought, which we currently do not have in South Dakota, is a type of drought that is seen one or two times a century, she said. D3 is maybe three, four or five times in a century and D2 is around five to ten times a century.

“No doubt, a majority of area in South Dakota, a majority of folks, are experiencing some drought conditions and some drought effects,” Edwards said. “We are getting to the point now where we are trying to differentiate these lines; are we three times in a century or five times in a century kind of drought? And that’s really difficult to discern sometimes.”

Although the drought monitor does impact some USDA drought disaster relief programs, they cannot take those into account when they are suggesting area drought conditions and lines, Edwards said, they are just using the climate, hydrology and vegetation type of data.

“We have to come back to the numbers to justify each category,” she said. “I know it is an imperfect process, but we really try very hard to look closely all across the state and coordinate with our partners in neighboring states as well to kind of resolve those issues on the state lines so that we are all in agreement and with the drought monitor author each week.”

Having this weekly update on the drought monitor can help producers not only see conditions in their area, but also nationally, Edwards said. If other areas are in a drought, it can have an effect on the markets. The drought monitor can help producers determine where and when to sell their crops or cattle, as well as possibly help producers determine where they could find feed or hay for their livestock.

It isn’t just agricultural drought that is on the monitor, she said. They are also looking at water levels and other things that don’t just affect producers.

The weekly drought monitor is released every Thursday morning, but they stop using data after around 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Edwards said, because it gives them time to digest and evaluate all that information and create the map.

So, when looking at the recent rainfall and how that will look on this week’s map, it will only include the moisture that happened on Monday night and not Tuesday afternoon.

“They can make adjustments week by week,” Edwards said. “Maybe instead of making an area worse as expected, they might just hold steady.”

After the rain this week, they will re-evaluate this coming week and will see if there was any benefit to the rain and was it enough to improve any areas, as well as look at what some of the lesser impacts are that we might see, she said.

Having the cool, wet conditions is nice, Edwards said. It is a critical time, especially for some of the corn crop.

“Maybe we will see some changes, maybe we will see continuing worsening,” she said.

The cool and wet conditions are very recent, and Edwards thinks it will take a little while for the improvements to come in, because we are in such a deep drought.

If people are experiencing any drought impacts and want to share those on a platform where drought monitor contributors and authors see it, Edwards said they can share their photos and stories at the Drought Impact Reporter. These photos and stories can be related to anything involving drought impacts.


If you are experiencing drought conditions in your area of KELOLAND, we would like you to share them. Please send your drought photos to aschumacher@keloland.com.

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