USGS Helps Create New Drought Monitor, Looks At Faster Moving Conditions

South Dakota and much of the Northern Great Plains are going through a drought; conditions that developed strong and fast. While federal and state agencies rely on the U.S. Drought Monitor to manage those conditions, the US. Geological Survey’s Center is developing a new system to help them see and respond to changes faster.

“We see dryer conditions later in the summer as a normal part of climate, but this started right away in May,” said USGS Geographer Jesslyn Brown.

In the midst of a drought, there’s good news coming out of South Dakota.  The US. Geological Survey’s Center has been working with the University of Nebraska to develop a new drought monitoring system.

“Every week we want to produce a product and we want it to be the most up-to-date data that it can possibly be,” said Brown.

The ‘Quick Drought Response Index’ or ‘QuickDRI’ became operational in June. Instead of analyzing one drought indicator like other monitoring systems, ‘QuickDRI’ looks at four. It analyzes evaporation stress, vegetation health, soil moisture, and precipitation weekly.

Brown said, “QuickDRI has the unique capability to combine these different indicators into one map.”

While their current monitoring tool called ‘VegDRI’ looks at long-term drought conditions, USGS says ‘QuickDRI’ can detect ‘flash droughts’ or short-term patterns. When comparing the two systems side by side, ‘QuickDRI’ already showed much more severe conditions this past spring.

“By my understanding, what we have seen in the northern great plains does qualify as a flash drought,” Brown said.

While farmers and ranchers can monitor the drought from their own backyards, USGS hopes the new system will help strengthen the ‘U.S. Drought Monitor’ used by federal and state agencies.

“It allows people to maybe make decisions differently if they find out sooner,” said Brown.

The ‘QuickDRI’ map is released every Monday, so that the authors of the U.S. Drought Monitor can look at it before updating theirs on Thursdays.

Brown says she hopes to meet with fire managers in Rapid City to get them looking at the new monitoring system.

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