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Definition of Drought

U.S. Agriculture Display Map

Drought is a complex phenomenon which is difficult to monitor and define. Hurricanes, for example, have a definite beginning and end and can easily be seen as they develop and move. Drought, on the other hand, is the absence of water. It is a creeping phenomenon that slowly sneaks up and impacts many sectors of the economy, and operates on many different time scales. As a result, the climatological community has defined four types of drought: 1) meteorological drought, 2) hydrological drought, 3) agricultural drought, and 4) socioeconomic drought. Meteorological drought happens when dry weather patterns dominate an area. Hydrological drought occurs when low water supply becomes evident, especially in streams, reservoirs, and groundwater levels, usually after many months of meteorological drought. Agricultural drought happens when crops become affected. And socioeconomic drought relates the supply and demand of various commodities to drought. Meteorological drought can begin and end rapidly, while hydrological drought takes much longer to develop and then recover. Many different indices have been developed over the decades to measure drought in these various sectors. The U.S. Drought Monitor depicts drought integrated across all time scales and differentiates between agricultural and hydrological impacts.