Reliable indicators of rapid drought onset can help to improve the effectiveness of drought early warning systems. In this study, the evaporative stress index (ESI), which uses remotely sensed thermal infrared imagery to estimate evapotranspiration (ET), is compared to drought classifications in the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) and standard precipitation-based drought indicators for several cases of rapid drought development that have occurred across the United States in recent years. Analysis of meteorological time series from the North American Regional Reanalysis indicates that these events are typically characterized by warm air temperature and low cloud cover anomalies, often with high winds and dewpoint depressions that serve to hasten evaporative depletion of soil moisture reserves. Standardized change anomalies depicting the rate at which various multiweek ESI composites changed over different time intervals are computed to more easily identify areas experiencing rapid changes in ET. Overall, the results demonstrate that ESI change anomalies can provide early warning of incipient drought impacts on agricultural systems, as indicated in crop condition reports collected by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. In each case examined, large negative change anomalies indicative of rapidly drying conditions were either coincident with the introduction of drought in the USDM or lead the USDM drought depiction by several weeks, depending on which ESI composite and time-differencing interval was used. Incorporation of the ESI as a data layer used in the construction of the USDM may improve timely depictions of moisture conditions and vegetation stress associated with flash drought events.
Journal of Hydrometeorology – American Meteorological Society
Published: Oct 2, 2012