Drought is a natural and recurring feature of our climate that can be considered a “severe" weather event much like a tornado, a flood or a hurricane. However, there are a few key differences that distinguish drought from other weather events that make it difficult to detect, track and respond to drought.
Part of the difficulty in detecting drought is in the lack of an obvious onset of drought conditions. A drought develops slowly and can appear to mimic a normal spell of dry weather in the summer, a time of the year when dry weather is accepted and expected. Short-term rainfall shortages create problems for agricultural crops, livestock, urban landscapes and other activities that depend on stored soil moisture between rainfall events. We are accustomed to dealing with short-term dry spells in part because there is an expectation that rainfall is just around the corner. However, when rainfall shortages persist for weeks or months at a time, activities that depend on long-term storage of water will be adversely impacted as well. Droughts in Kentucky can have serious negative consequences for drinking water supplies, energy production, commercial and industrial operations, recreation and aquatic habitat.
The negative impacts of drought cannot be avoided, but there are ways to reduce them to a manageable level. All water suppliers in the Commonwealth should have a water shortage response plan to guide both the supplier and customer during a drought event. It is important for customers to listen to their water suppliers and be ready to take necessary actions to prevent a water shortage problem from developing. This is critical to a successful outcome because the only way to effectively manage the source of water supply is to first manage the demand for water.
There is no easy method for determining when a dry spell has become a drought, how long a drought will persist or how intense a drought may become. However, by closely tracking certain sources of information, referred to as drought indicators, it is possible to detect potential drought development early enough to allow at least some lead-time for notification and initiation of drought response preparations at the local level. The Division of Water monitors for the potential development of drought in Kentucky by tracking precipitation, streamflows, lake levels, groundwater and water supplies. There are also several tools that are useful in assessing the severity of a “dry spell” and the potential impacts to agriculture, forest fires, water supplies and other vulnerabilities to drought. These tools include the Palmer Drought Severity Index, the Drought Monitor, the Standardized Precipitation Index and several others (see Quick Links).
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