Environmental Protection Agency: Climate Change Indicators - Drought

This indicator measures drought conditions of U.S. lands.

During the 20th century, many indices were created to measure drought severity by looking at precipitation, soil moisture, stream flow, vegetation health, and other variables.3 Figure 1 shows annual values of the most widely used index, the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which is calculated from precipitation and temperature measurements at weather stations. An index value of zero represents the average moisture conditions observed between 1931 and 1990 at a given location. A positive value means conditions are wetter than average, while a negative value is drier than average. Index values from locations across the contiguous 48 states have been averaged together to produce the national values shown in Figure 1.

For a more detailed perspective on recent trends, Figure 2 shows a newer index called the Drought Monitor, which is based on several indices (including Palmer), along with additional factors such as snow water content, groundwater levels, reservoir storage, pasture/range conditions, and other impacts. The Drought Monitor uses codes from D0 to D4 (see table below Figure 2) to classify drought severity. This part of the indicator covers all 50 states and Puerto Rico.


Science Topics
Climate Change, Meteorology
Middle School
6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade

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