Long droughts can be disruptive and dangerous for many sectors including agriculture, water supplies, fisheries, health, and infrastructure. They cause river and reservoir levels to drop, making them particularly straining for farmers. The 1976 drought in the UK made an estimated £3,500 million worth of crops fail. They can also be extremely dangerous – it was drought conditions that allowed the so-called ‘King fire’ of California to spread so quickly in 2014.

One of the challenges of managing droughts is that they are hard to predict. Their long, extended nature means current technology can't give more than one month’s warning.

Their drawn-out nature also means that the term ‘drought’ has no exact definition. The common understanding that droughts are a space of abnormally dry weather isn't very useful as what's ‘abnormal’ changes from one region to the next. Bali is so wet that six days without rain is enough to create a drought, while in Libya it is pretty normal for nearly two years to go by without any rain at all.

CEH Fellow Terry Marsh has written this short blog post which examines "What is a drought?"

A drought’s slippery definition means it is sometimes easier to refer to them by their causes or impacts:

  • hydrological drought - refers to a lack of water in all parts of the water cycle
  • meteorological drought - determined by the number of days without rain
  • agricultural drought -focuses on the amount of water in the soil
  • socioeconomic drought - a lack of water means that demand for an economic good exceeds the supply

CEH work on drought

Projects

January 2017 UK river flows
January 2017 UK Hydrological Summary
COSMOS station at University of Lincoln's Riseholme campus
Further developments for the CEH-led COSMOS-UK network
Collage of images representing the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation
Helping regional businesses make the move to a lower carbon economy
The river Elbe floods Meissen, Germany in 2013
Establishing a worldwide hydrological status and outlook system
Mekedatu, place where the Kaveri River flows through a narrow ravine. (CC BY 2.0) By Renjith Sasidharan https://www.flickr.com/photos/renjithks/3845336695
Upscaling local water management interventions to inform larger-scale decision-making in the Cauvery basin, India
High flow in a river
November 2016 Hydrological Summary for the UK
Soil Moisture Deficits
September 2016 Hydrological Summary for the UK
India-UK Water Security Centre
A major water research initiative between UK and India researchers launches today

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