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FAQ: Drought Risk

Drought is a severe weather phenomenon that causes significant economic, environmental and social impacts. It occurs when there is an extended period of time with little or no precipitation, leading to insufficient water supply for crops, plants, animals and humans. In this FAQ, we will explore the concept of drought risk and some frequently asked questions surrounding drought and its various impacts. 

What is a drought?

Drought is a slow-onset natural disaster characterized by an extended period of below-average precipitation leading to a shortage of water supply. It can affect both large areas and small regions, and it can occur in any climate zone. Droughts are not limited to just dry and arid regions but can also happen in seemingly wet and humid areas. There is a risk of drought anytime that precipitation falls below normal levels. This risk is increased when dry conditions are coupled with above-average temperatures.

Seasonal Drought

Seasonal drought occurs in climates that have well-defined annual rainy and dry seasons. El Niño and La Niña cycles impact seasonal drought predictions. El Niño and La Niña are complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. They are part of a phenomenon known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle.

El Niño represents the warm phase of the ENSO cycle and is typically associated with increased rainfall across the southern tier of the US and drought in the western Pacific nations, often leading to severe drought conditions. On the other hand, La Niña represents the cold phase of the ENSO cycle and can contribute to increased drought risk, particularly in southern and western regions of the United States. It often leads to above-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and less rainfall in the Southwest and Southeast. Both El Niño and La Niña have significant implications for drought risk, influencing weather patterns that can either alleviate or exacerbate existing drought conditions.

How is drought measured?

Drought is typically measured using a combination of different indicators such as precipitation, soil moisture levels, streamflow, and water storage levels. These measurements are compared to long-term averages to determine the severity and duration of a drought.

What causes drought?

Drought can be caused by various factors including natural climate cycles, such as El Niño and La Niña, which can impact rainfall patterns. Human activities such as deforestation, overuse of water resources, and climate change can also contribute to drought conditions.

What are the impacts of drought?

Drought is a serious event that can impact health, agriculture, economies, real estate, energy, and the environment.

Impact on Agriculture

Drought can have a significant impact on agriculture, causing crop failures and livestock loss. Plant-eating pests thrive during drought conditions, which puts another pressure on farmers during drought conditions. Similarly, drought can lead to increased food prices and shortages in affected regions.

Impact on Water Supply

Drought can severely affect the water supply for both human consumption and irrigation for agriculture. In areas where water resources are already scarce, drought can lead to water rationing and restrictions on usage.

Impact on Energy

Drought can also impact energy production, particularly in areas where hydropower is the main source of electricity. As water levels decrease, hydropower plants may not be able to produce electricity at full capacity, leading to energy shortages and higher costs for consumers. This could also potentially lead to the increase of energy generation from traditional fossil fuel sources.

Impact on Environment

Drought can have a significant impact on the environment, causing soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and increased air pollution due to dust storms. It can also lead to reduced water levels in rivers and lakes, affecting aquatic life and ecosystems. Similarly, drought increases the likelihood of wildfires and negatively impacts soil health, which is crucial for successful agriculture.

Impact on Property Owners

The most common and damaging form of property risk due to drought and drying soil conditions is damage to foundations. Dry soil shrinks, causing gaps beneath your foundation which can lead to cracking and other issues. For example, soil types that are primarily composed of clay dry out during droughts, resulting in uneven settling of the soil that can damage the foundation of a building. Although the effects of drought cause damage slower than other types of weather issues, the damage that drought can cause to properties can be very severe.

In conclusion, drought can be caused by various factors and has significant impacts on agriculture, water supply, energy production, the environment, and property owners. Given the far-reaching impacts of drought across the board, it is crucial that drought risk is monitored so that practices can be implemented to prepare for and mitigate its effects.  It is essential to remember that even in seemingly wet areas, there is always a risk of drought, and being prepared can make all the difference.

COMING SOON: Drought risk reports for any U.S. property will soon be available in LandGate’s free property reports and our LandApp tool. 


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