Recruiting Stakeholders to Improve Drought-Impact Indicators in the Northwest

CIRC scientists are seeking natural resource management, tourism, and recreation stakeholders for a new project to develop drought-impact indicators

Bart Nijssen, John Abatzoglou, and Katherine Hegewisch

If you are interested in participating in the below project, please contact one of us for more information: Bart Nijssen (nijssen@uw.edu), John Abatzoglou (jabatzoglou@ucmerced.edu), or Katherine Hegewisch (khegewisch@ucmerced.edu).

Regular readers of the CIRCulator will be familiar with the Climate Toolbox, a collection of interactive resources for visualizing past and projected climate and hydrology of the Northwest and other regions across the United States. Tools such as the Climate Mapper illustrate current conditions, seasonal forecasts, and projections of future climate that are relevant to agriculture, fire, and water availability. Another tool in the Toolbox, the Historical Water Watcher, compares measures of water availability in near real-time for a single location.

Although these tools rapidly provide information on water surpluses and deficits in a given region, the Climate Toolbox does not yet make a direct connection between climate and economic or societal impacts. To fill this gap, members of the CIRC team at the University of Washington (Bart Nijssen) and the University of California, Merced (Katherine Hegewisch and John Abatzoglou) are developing a tool that will directly link drought indicators with undesirable impacts of drought and decisions that may limit such impacts. We initially will focus on effects of drought on the natural resources and outdoor recreation sectors in the Northwest. Our ultimate goal is to improve the capacity of these sectors to mitigate the economic effects of drought through timely action that is based on relevant information. Funding for this project has been provided by the Coping with Drought initiative of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To build this tool, we are recruiting stakeholders who work in natural resource management, tourism, and recreation to collaborate with us on development of a drought-impact database and to provide input on tool development. We invite you to join our network of stakeholders. We would like to understand what drought information you incorporate into your decision-making, and the season during which this information is most valuable to you. We are interested in the effects of drought on your sector, the extent to which drought indicators inform decisions, and your perspectives on existing data on drought impacts.

During the first phase of this effort, we will interview you and subsequently invite you to attend a remote stakeholder workshop during which we all will discuss early results. During the second phase of the project, we will ask you to critically evaluate tools that we will prototype in the Climate Toolbox. By the end of this two-year project, we will have created an additional decision support tool for the Climate Toolbox, produced a series of two-page information sheets, and convened an end-of-project workshop to discuss the new tool and solicit ideas and feedback for continued operation and added functionality. 

Why we need improved indicators of drought impact

A lot of work has been done to develop metrics that indicate drought intensity for diverse applications. These drought indicators have distinct strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Palmer Drought Severity Index does not account explicitly for snow, an important part of the hydrologic cycle in the Northwest. The Standardized Precipitation Index does not account for processes that use water, such as evapotranspiration. Indicators based on soil moisture and snow water equivalent (the amount of water contained within the snowpack) facilitate comparison of drought intensity among locations, but provide limited information during periods with little or no precipitation, such as summers in the Pacific Northwest. Most of these indicators are determined solely by environmental conditions and fail to account for economic and societal impacts. The U.S. Drought Monitor is one of the few products that incorporates local drought-impact reporting into its drought status reports.

With this project, we aim to draw useful connections between drought indicators and impacts by assembling data on drought indicators at relevant spatial and temporal scales, and by assembling a repository of relevant, time-stamped, and geo-located drought impacts. We seek your help in compiling the impact data and connecting impacts to threshold values of the indicators. For each decision made on the basis of drought (for example, closing a ski resort for the season), we seek information on what data are used to monitor water availability (for example, snow depth) and what data values trigger the decision (for example, snow depth less than 2 inches [5 cm] on a given date). The Climate Toolbox can contribute relevant information, such as daily weather, hydrology, and fire danger.

In addition to creating a new, practical tool, we want to better understand the relations among drought indicators, decision thresholds, and the associated drought mitigation efforts and impacts. This understanding will guide further development of monitoring and forecast tools that will inform the implementation of measures to mitigate drought impacts.


Bart Nijssen is a CIRC team member, hydrologist, and leading member of the University Washington’s surface hydrology group.

John Abatzoglou is a CIRC team member, climatologist, and professor at the University of California, Merced.

Katherine Hegewisch is a CIRC team member and research scientist at University of California, Merced.


Featured Image: “Late Afternoon Storm over the Steens Mountain.” (Dudley Chelton, all rights reserved).


Acknowledgments: The Climate Toolbox is funded in part through the NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program and National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS).

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