Many climate models focus on scenarios decades into the future, making their outcomes seem unreliable and problematic for decision-making in the immediate future.
Many climate models focus on scenarios decades into the future, making their outcomes seem unreliable and problematic for decision-making in the immediate future. In a proactive move, researchers are using short-term forecasts to stress the urgency of drought risk in the United States and inform policymakers’ actions now.
A new study led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign civil and environmental engineering professor Ximing Cai examines how drought propagates through climate, hydrological, ecological and social systems throughout different U.S. regions. The results are published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
“The same amount of precipitation, or the lack of thereof, in one region could have very different impacts on the hydrologic cycle, streamflow and water storage in another region,” Cai said. “The impacts of droughts are closely related to climate and environmental characteristics, and both together can have very different impacts on human water usage and supply.”
For example, the team predicted that lack of rainfall in the Southeastern region poses a greater risk than it does in the Southwest. The Southwest has a relatively large water-storage capacity, unlike the Southeast, which has a limited storage capacity and faces increased demand. Their prediction proved accurate, according to their models.
Image: Civil and environmental engineering professor Ximing Cai. (Credit: Photo by L. Brian Stauffer)