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Drought Monitor: Decision Support System

A project is currently underway to enhance the U.S. Drought Monitor by making a more robust drought portal to better address the needs of decision makers, ttis project is directed at providing users with a robust set of user-friendly web-based tools to visualize and assess drought conditions from national to local scales. Utilizing state-of-the-art technology and information delivery, the site will be a comprehensive one-stop portal for drought, with an approach centered on a more interactive U.S. Drought Monitor map. Advances in spatial and temporal resolution of various indicators now allow for better planning and assessment down to the local level, ttis suite of links and tools will enable the user to integrate and visualize various large databases, models, CIS techniques, and spatial analysis/visualization tools, tte ultimate goal is to capitalize on this technology by developing a delivery mechanism for users of all skill levels, with the intent of improving their knowledge and decision-making abilities. Providing a simple interface with an emphasis on integration and application will allow users to get the answers they need in a timely manner and at the level of detail that is tailored to their needs.

Specific tasks that will be undertaken through this project include: (1) conducting a comprehensive review of the literature and web on other drought-specific decision support systems around the world; (2) expanding on and enhancing the current USDM model; (3) designing and building a user-friendly, interactive interface (web/CD-based delivery systems) that allows for drilling down to the local level to


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Fig. 2.3. An example of a new feature of the U.S. Drought Monitor map which allows users to drill down from a national map to a more precise local representation of drought conditions. (Source: National Drought Mitigation Center, University ofNebraska-Lincoln, USA.)

Fig. 2.3. An example of a new feature of the U.S. Drought Monitor map which allows users to drill down from a national map to a more precise local representation of drought conditions. (Source: National Drought Mitigation Center, University ofNebraska-Lincoln, USA.)

assess drought; and (4) fostering a continual process of user feedback, evaluation, assessment, and dissemination of the tools for agricultural producers and others.

One specific example of a more interactive product is to provide users with the capability to 'drill-down' from the national level to the state and county level to obtain a higher resolution depiction of the drought areas affected for their area (Fig. 2.3). ttese higher resolution maps will be accompanied by tables that provide a breakdown of the percent area in various drought severity classes, ttis type of information is extremely useful for policy decisions and the state and national level and also for the media.

The Drought Impact Reporter: A Web-based Impact Assessment Tool and Database tte widespread drought episodes over the past two decades in the United States have emphasized the need to better assess the magnitude of drought impacts, sectors affected, and their spatial dimensions. According to the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), severe to extreme drought covered more than 25% of the United States in 2000, 2002,2003, 2004, and 2006. At the end of July 2002, drought or dryness was affecting all 50 states at the same time, and parts of 26 states were classified under "severe", "extreme", or "exceptional" designations, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor ( In spite of the widespread severity of recent drought years, there has been no comprehensive assessment of economic, environmental, or social impacts, ttere is also no national database of drought-related impacts. Without more timely and precise estimates of impacts across the multitude of sectors affected by drought, policy and other decision makers are reluctant to allocate money and resources to mitigation and preparedness, according to the Council of Governors' Policy Advisors (Brenner 1997). ttese state officials have a general understanding that "mitigation makes sense," but their desire was for quantitative proof. In fact, this report identified the "lack of information" as the major obstacle to adopting mitigation strategies. Wilhite and Buchanan-Smith (2005) also identified the lack of a comprehensive impact assessment methodology as an obstacle to activating effective drought mitigation and response programs. To overcome this obstacle, timely and quantitative assessments of the impacts and economic losses associated with drought must be compiled.

Because of the number of affected groups and sectors associated with drought, the geographic size of the area affected, and the difficulties in quantifying environmental damages and personal hardships, the precise determination of the financial costs of drought is a formidable challenge, ttese costs and losses are also quite variable from one drought year to another in the same place, depending on timing, intensity, and spatial extent of the droughts.

In July 2005, the NDMC launched a prototype web-based Drought Impact Reporter (DIR) to present real-time information on current drought impacts and serve as a national drought impacts database, tte DIR has two main components: (1) a comprehensive database or archive of drought impacts and (2) an interactive map delivery system that provides quick access to the archive, tte drought impacts archive is the backbone of the DIR. NDMC staff began entering drought impact information during summer 2005. When the DIR was launched in July, the web-based tool was still in its earliest development phase, tte NDMC has now received additional funding to broaden and enhance the scope of the DIR and the interactive map delivery system so it is more efficient and user-oriented, tte NDMC is also developing additional linkages with governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, university research groups and extension programs, and others to provide impact reports to ensure a comprehensive collection of drought impacts across all potential sectors and scales. User evaluations and feedback are also important components of the DIR system, tte NDMC will continue to foster linkages with a broad range of users as it enhances the DIR. tte DIR has been constructed so its primary elements are consistent with an increased emphasis on drought impact assessment and mitigation and the need for an interactive web-based system to deliver information for all users, as called for in the report on the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), prepared by the Western Governors' Association (2004).

tte sources of the drought impact data for the DIR are:

• An online clipping service that provides daily drought impact-related news articles and scientific publications, tte NDMC began subscribing to this service in March 2005.

• Articles on drought impacts, collected routinely since 1997. tte NDMC now has an internal archive of more than 11,000 articles, ttese articles will also be reviewed for drought impact information and entered into the database.

• Drought impact information from reports and other materials from historical drought periods, such as the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s, and late 1980s to early 1990s, and other shorter-duration drought events will be reviewed and entered.

• User-entered drought impact information directly through the website by government officials, water utilities, water and natural resource managers, agricultural producers, and others, ttis information is reviewed and verified by NDMC staff and is characterized as "submitted" reports.

Fig.2.4. ^e Drought Impact Reporter, a newfeature on the website of the National Drought Mitigation Center that provides a spatial and sectoral representation of drought impacts in the country. (Source: National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA.)

tte DIR has been developed and is supported by an ArcGIS/IMS architecture. As this tool evolves, enhancements to the delivery system will be needed. In addition, since the Drought Impact Reporter is one tool in the larger National Drought Impacts Reporting Strategy, it is envisioned that there will be a suite of web-based products and interactive features that will also be supported as part of the same delivery system.

tte DIR can be accessed through the NDMC's website (http://drought.unl. edu) or directly at When the tool is accessed, the first default screen displays a map of the United States illustrating the number of drought impacts reported during the past month (Fig. 2.4). tte legend appears in the lower right corner of the page. In the upper right corner is a list of impact categories. All categories will be displayed initially, but the user can select only those categories of interest, tte user can also select the sources of information (e.g., media, public), but all sources are shown initially, tte user can also select the time period for the impacts [Note: NDMC staff have, at this writing, entered impacts reported through news articles back to 1995], tte default for the map is the past month. After making the selections for sources and time period, the user can click the "select" button to generate a new map.

By positioning the cursor over a state, a box appears with a listing of the total number of impacts for the selected period and how these break down by sectors. Clicking on the state will produce a map of that state depicting counties (Fig. 2.4). By placing the cursor over a county, a box appears again depicting the number of impacts for that county with a breakdown by sector. Clicking on the county will reveal the sources for this information (queried from the database), allowing the user to learn more about the impacts reported, ttis "drill down" technique is a critically important feature of the DIR, allowing users to interrogate to the local or county scale to identify specific impacts.

tte user also has the option to overlay the various categories of drought severity from the U.S. Drought Monitor map ( Overlaying the drought categories on the Drought Impact Reporter map gives users the option of visually correlating impacts with drought severity levels. Currently, this option is only available for the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, but plans are to expand this capability in the future. Overlaying the Drought Monitor categories on the DIR map will also help users understand and appreciate the lag characteristics of drought impacts, since dry conditions may persist for long periods. For example, the northern Great Plains and northern Rocky Mountain states have been in various drought severity levels for the past seven years.

Other features of the DIR include an option to animate the impacts over a time period and also for users to add drought impacts. To add an impact, the user clicks on this feature and then enters the requested information, including the selection of the impact categories and describing the impact. Information entered is quality-checked by NDMC staff before it is added to the database. To date, about 10% of the impacts entered have been from the public, but this number is expected to increase significantly as user groups become more aware of the DIR and the archive becomes more comprehensive.

Numerous sectoral impacts have been added to the database since it was first launched, tte total number of impacts added for the period 1995 to present is near ly 4,000. Although this represents only a small fraction of the impacts that have occurred during this period, it does illustrate both the diversity of impacts and the relative importance of these impacts by sector. As one would expect, the largest number of impacts reported is in the agricultural sector, but significant impacts have also been reported in the water, energy, and fire sectors. Social impacts, which are usually underappreciated for drought, are significant over the period of 1995 to present.

Many benefits are expected for policy and other decision makers, the scientific community, and the general public as a result of improved drought impact assessments and the creation of an impact archive. First, this project is the first step toward development of national and regional assessments of drought conditions across the United States. For example, Canada was able to make a rough national assessment of the 2001-02 drought, estimating losses at approximately Canadian S5.7 billion (Saskatchewan Research Council 2003). Although not perfect, the Canadian drought assessment placed the losses in context for officials and provided a basis for making adjustments and improving on this assessment in future drought events. Second, the archived collection of drought impacts within the large database will be freely and easily accessible to researchers, as well as to decision makers requiring information for policy and management options. Initial reaction to the DIR has been extremely positive, and ongoing efforts to enhance this product will further heighten its use and popularity. For example, since the DIR was launched on July 27, 2005, it has received more than 25,000 users accounting for more than 142,000 page views and more than 1.25 million hits (as of December 31, 2005). tte NDMC is actively publicizing this product and engaging a wide range of user groups in building the archive and obtaining user feedback. Important bridges will be built between research and user communities that will ultimately increase the capacity for better drought mitigation and response activities across the country.

ttird, the project builds a foundation for development of standardized methodologies of identifying, collecting, and quantifying drought impacts on national, regional, state, and local levels, as well as the methods for estimating economic losses at these levels, tte NDMC will continue to pursue development of these methodologies in collaboration with other research entities. Future enhancements to the DIR will include linking this tool to databases such as agricultural statistics at the state and local levels to compare reported impact information with specific production losses as well as to information on drought disaster declarations by federal agencies. Fourth, the DIR will provide a platform for identifying and reporting drought impacts in under-reported sectors, such as livestock, timber, recreation, tourism, and energy. It is likely that the recent drought years from 1996 to 2005 across the United States resulted in impacts in these sectors greater than or equal to crop production losses, which are the most frequently quantified economic impact of drought. Fifth, discussions have been held between the NDMC and NOAA/ National Weather Service (NWS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel about using the Drought Impact Reporter and its data entry format as the tool for entering and documenting "drought incident reports" similar to storm reports that are filed on severe weather events, ttis would provide NWS offices with a uniform format for reporting drought conditions and impacts, and would provide an additional dissemination method for these reports, and the drought impacts taking place, through the Drought Impact Reporter's map-based delivery system. Finally, this project supports both NIDIS and the National Drought Preparedness Act. tte interactive map delivery system will easily connect with other drought-related decision-support tools now being developed by the NDMC, government agencies, and other organizations.

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