Meteorologists track hurricanes over the oceans, forecasting where and when landfall might occur so residents can prepare for disaster before it strikes.
Meteorologists track hurricanes over the oceans, forecasting where and when landfall might occur so residents can prepare for disaster before it strikes. What if they could do the same thing for droughts?
Stanford scientists have now shown that may be possible in some instances – the researchers have identified a new kind of “landfalling drought” that can potentially be predicted before it impacts people and ecosystems on land. They found that these droughts, which form over the ocean and then migrate landward, can cause larger and drier conditions than droughts that occur solely over the land. Of all the droughts affecting land areas worldwide from 1981 to 2018, roughly one in six were landfalling droughts, according to the study published Sept. 21 in Water Resources Research.
“We normally don’t think about droughts over the ocean – it may even sound counterintuitive. But just as over land, there can be times where large regions in the ocean experience less rainfall than normal,” said lead author Julio Herrera-Estrada, a research collaborator with Water in the West who conducted research for the study while he was a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “Finding that some droughts start offshore will hopefully motivate conversations about the benefits of monitoring and forecasting droughts beyond the continents.”
Droughts can harm or destroy crops, as well as impact water supplies, electricity generation, trade and ecosystem health. Historically, droughts have displaced millions of people and cost billions of dollars. Yet the climate processes that lead to drought are not fully understood, making accurate predictions difficult.
Read more at Stanford University
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