Posted by Weatherflow ● September, 2022
What Causes Drought?
A drought is a prolonged period of time with little or no rainfall that leads to water shortage and is a type of extreme weather that can be detrimental to the environment in many ways. Lack of precipitation can be caused by a number of changing conditions, including climate change, changing ocean temperatures, jet stream and atmospheric fluctuation, and landscaping. The likelihood and severity of droughts have been increasing as the Earth's climate warms, and are predicted to continue.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A DROUGHT?
Most parts of the world can dry out without enough regular rainfall, and when a dry spell is long enough, plants, animals, and other parts of an area's ecosystem can suffer as a result of the lack of water. A prolonged drought can have long-standing negative effects on a given region’s flora, fauna, and economy, even long after it has impacted an area. The hydrologic imbalances caused by droughts are especially threatening to communities that lack adequate food and water, as these communities are left the most vulnerable when crops or livestock die from the hot and dry conditions.
Unlike other types of extreme weather events, knowing exactly when a drought begins and ends can be tricky. Some regions will go unaware that they are experiencing a drought for several weeks, months, or even years.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF DROUGHT?
There are several different types of drought that can occur depending on the reasons for the drought and how it is affecting the surrounding environment. You've got:
- Meteorological Droughts are region-specific; they occur when an area receives less rainfall than it normally should. Meteorological droughts are often measured by comparing the current situation to previous years’ rainfall. Some locations are affected more harshly than others.
- Agricultural Droughts occur when there is not enough moisture in the soil to sustain the growth of crops. Crops need different amounts of water based on their level of maturity, so they can be susceptible to droughts at different times. For example, most plants require moist topsoil to germinate, but this could be less important down the line as the plant matures. So, the effects of an agricultural drought hinge largely on the growth stage of the plants.
- Hydrological Droughts occur when there is a lack of surface and subsurface water supply. The detrimental effects of hydrological droughts can be most readily observed in watersheds and river basins. Even water-based commerce can be negatively affected. Hydrological droughts affect the entire water cycle, take longer to notice, and have effects less immediately obvious than with other droughts.
- Socioeconomic Droughts occur when the water supply is too low to support human and environmental needs. This wreaks havoc on the supply and demand of crucial commodities like water, grains, fish, and hydroelectric power. The lack of water causes a decrease in supply, unable to meet the demand for these goods.
CONSEQUENCES OF SEVERE DROUGHT
Like many extreme weather events, droughts can have harrowing consequences on the communities and surrounding environment they affect. The consequences of drought can be environmental, economic, or societal impacts on the affected and surrounding areas or any combination of the three. At the very least, some crops and animals will suffer or die. The more severe a drought, the more likely it is to impact human life directly. Droughts have the ability to dry out rivers, make important commodities scarce, and cause starvation and a lack of drinking water in local communities.
Some environmental consequences of severe drought could be:
- Reduced food and water availability for native plant species and wildlife
- Drying of lakes, rivers, streams, or other natural water sources
- Reduced quality in soil from lack of moisture
- Decreased levels of groundwater
- Increased likelihood of wildfires
Some economic consequences of severe drought could be:
- Dying out of crops, livestock, and other agriculturally driven practices due to lack of water and dry soil
- Increased prices of food and water and local water and farming sources become unavailable
- Areas that rely on waterways for goods transportation or other industries will have to seek other routes
- Areas that rely on water to sustain a tourism industry will have to seek alternative income methods
Some societal consequences of severe drought could be:
- Loss of life from lack of resources
- People may need to migrate from their homes or farms
- Reduced income and higher price of living
How an area will feel the effects of drought will vary depending on the location, type of environment, and severity of the drought. Considering some of the consequences of extreme drought are important when making decisions about preparing and protecting your home and property in the potential case of a drought in your area.
EXTREME DROUGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES
There have been several severe droughts throughout the world since long before recorded history. In fact, it is hypothesized that early megadroughts are what prompted the spread of the first humans out of Africa. Throughout time droughts have brought down civilizations, and caused the spread of disease, famine, wildfires, and other natural and biological disasters across the globe. Many major droughts have hit the United States since before the colonization of North America, but some have stood out due to their extremely disastrous impacts.
- One of the earliest and most infamous droughts the United States has seen is the Dust Bowl drought. Starting in 1930 and lasting nearly a decade, the Dust Bowl drought is known for its extremely destructive dust storms that plagued the Plains states until 1939. The Dust Bowl affected over 120 million acres of land across the Plain states and caused the migration of over 2.5 million people from the states plagued by extreme drought. Environmental, economic, and governmental effects were felt for decades even after regular rainfall resumed in the area in 1939.
The Dust Bowl drought lasted from 1930 to 1939 and brought extreme dust storms and dry conditions to much of the Great Plains states.
- Not long after the Second World War, a second drought hit the Plains area of the United States between 1950 and 1956. Also called the "Six Year Drought," this drought was accompanied by soaring temperatures and increased wildfires in some of the affected areas.
- Hitting further north than the previous two droughts, almost 30 years after the Six Year Drought, another severe drought hit the United States. While only lasting three years between 1987 and 1989, this drought proved to be much more costly than the previous two, costing almost $40 billion in damages and sparking a wildfire so large that Yellowstone National Park was closed for the first time in its history.
HOW DOES CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECT DROUGHTS?
Emerging research shows that climate change is likely increasing the frequency and severity of droughts in the United States and beyond. Rising air temperatures hasten the evaporation process and allow for more water to be held in the atmosphere. Not only are higher temperatures going to increase the likelihood of drought, but they can also increase the overall intensity of a drought that could have otherwise been less severe. The Southwest United States is especially at risk, as annual precipitation has steadily decreased there over the last century, and this trend is expected to continue. You can view a current map of drought conditions in the United States here.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR HOME FOR A DROUGHT
There are many ways that you can prepare your home and property for potential drought. From how you run your home to how you take care of your lawn and garden, energy efficiency and water conservation will be the most vital in staying safe during drought or dry conditions.
Conserve energy and water in your home by:
- Fixing any damaged or leaking pipework to reduce unnecessary water spillage.
- Ensuring your home and pipes are well insulated.
- When possible choose home appliances that are energy and hydro-efficient.
- Reusing water when possible and lowering household water consumption.
- Take shorter showers, and turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, shave, or wash your face.
Learn more about how you can make your home more energy efficient with Tempest here. The Tempest Weather System has endless possibilities with our integrations and open API for you to turn your home into a smart home.
Conserve energy and water in your lawn and garden by:
- Adding more native plant species to your garden and yard reduces water consumption and increases drought resistance in soil.
- Using your sprinklers efficiently, with a smart sprinkler controller like Rachio to reduce water consumption.
- Letting your lawn grow taller encourages deeper root growth.
Learn more about how you can make your lawn and garden more energy efficient with Tempest here.
While the worsening of drought in the United States and beyond seems inevitable, there are steps that can be taken to prepare for extreme weather event and to reduce their frequency and severity. By taking some of the steps above, your home and personal property will be better prepared in the case of a drought or prolonged period of extreme dryness or heat in your area. But there are also actions you can take at the local, state, and national level to help fight climate change and reduce the warming temperatures that fuel extreme droughts.
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