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article imageData analytics show 'flash drought's' impact on U.S. wheat crops

By Karen Graham     Aug 6, 2017 in Technology
The "flash drought" came out of nowhere, hitting the High Plains states of Montana and the Dakotas the hardest, destroying more than half of this year's wheat crop.
The intense drought is so bad the multi-agency U.S. Drought Monitor recently upgraded the drought to “exceptional," its highest drought designation, akin to the drought that crippled California for five years.
The term, "flash drought" is relatively new, only coming into use in 2016. Flash drought refers to relatively short periods of warm surface temperature and extremely low and rapid decreasing soil moisture (SM). Based on the physical mechanisms associated with flash droughts, these events are classified into two categories: heat wave and precipitation P deficit flash droughts, according to researchers.
In their research, scientists noted that heat wave flash droughts are most likely to occur over the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, where the vegetation cover is dense. So the flash drought occurring on the High Plains is called a heat wave flash drought.
The Associated Press says the dry conditions are “laying waste to crops and searing pasture and hay land” in America’s new wheat belt. Many longtime farmers and ranchers are saying it's the worst of their lifetimes. “The damage and the destruction is just unimaginable,” Montana resident Sarah Swanson said. “It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.”
These "flash droughts" are expected to become more frequent as climate change continues to affect our environment and weather patterns. Climate scientists have already predicted the High Plains will essentially turn to desert over the coming decades and centuries. But we must also remember that declining levels of groundwater from intense irrigation, also have to be taken into account.
For week ending July 30  2017.
For week ending July 30, 2017.
What is being done to provide early detection of flash droughts?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ranks droughts and flash droughts second in terms of national weather-related economic impacts behind hurricanes, which cause annual losses of nearly $9.0 billion. To provide earlier detection of flash droughts, the Quick Drought Response Index, or QuickDRI, went operational in June 2017.
QuickDRI is a collaboration between the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) and Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies (CALMIT) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the U.S. Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science (USGS EROS) Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS), and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).
The QuickDRI geospatial tool detects short-term changes and rapid intensification of drought conditions through the integration of satellite, climate, and biophysical information on a weekly basis at a 1.0 kilometer (0.62 miles) gridded spatial resolution.
You could liken QuickDRI to an "alarm," because it is an indicator of events that are happening rapidly, like a few days in time. Jesslyn Brown, a project co-investigator and lead for QuickDRI operations at the U.S. Geological Survey says, “We expect it to be especially helpful for decisions related to irrigation and fire management.”
For week ending July 30  2017.
For week ending July 30, 2017.
QuickDRI has a companion prediction platform called Vegetation Drought Response Index, or VegDRI, which gives us a picture of drought's impact on vegetation, however, VegDRI is a seasonal drought indicator.
“Preliminary assessment of QuickDRI shows that it consistently detects short-term dryness patterns across the continental U.S.,” said Dr. Brian Wardlow, the co-principal investigator of the QuickDRI project and director of the Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The economic impact of the drought and numerous wildfires burning across the High Plains may exceed $1 billion across the by the time the rains return. Ranchers from as far away as West Virginia have been sending donations of hay to their neighbors in the drought-stricken states. And to add to farmer's miseries, the Trump administration is proposing heavy cuts to a key federal crop insurance program.
More about flash drought, high plains, Wheat crop, QuickDRI, VegDRI
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