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NOAA identifies tactics and strategies to improve drought science, forecasts and data products

Posted May 13, 2015

After soliciting feedback from more than 100 stakeholders and employees, NOAA released a service assessment on May 11, 2015, that identifies tactics and strategies the agency can take to better provide California decision makers with the scientific data and tools they need to lessen the impacts of extreme drought.

The NOAA California Drought Service Assessment contains more than three dozen findings and recommendations which may lead to improved or more tailored data products and tools, such as weather forecasts, streamflow forecasts, seasonal predictions, and climate models. The report also examines NOAA’s coastal stewardship mandates and ecosystem research services, noting best practices and identifying areas for partnerships and collaboration, as well as research questions NOAA scientists should consider pursuing.


“As the nation prepares for more weather and climate extremes, unprecedented actions to safeguard water–such as those seen in California–will become more commonplace. NOAA must stay ahead by developing new tools and refining existing ones to meet new demands,” said Vice Admiral Michael Devany, NOAA’s deputy under secretary for operations and executive sponsor of the report.

He added, “This report’s findings underscore NOAA’s important role in providing businesses and communities with the environmental intelligence–or timely, reliable and actionable information–to remain resilient to extreme events.  The feedback outlined in this report will help NOAA serve communities and businesses in California as they continue to grapple with the worst drought in its history.”

Since its onset in 2011, the California drought has taken a heavy toll on the economy and the natural environment. A study last year by the University of California Davis projected 2014’s economic cost of the drought to be $2.2 billion, with a total loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs. The state’s agriculture, fisheries and coastal ecosystems, and water resources sectors have been particularly hard-hit, thus providing a framework for this report. Top findings include:

  • Improve seasonal prediction: The annual snowpack in the Central and Northern Sierra Nevadas Mountains provide the vast majority of water for California. Even a “low confidence” seasonal forecast for the total precipitation in those areas could go a long way in answering the most enduring question: “How much water will we get this year?”
  • Build “full natural flow” water resources modeling: In a state where almost every drop of water is accounted for as it makes its way to the sea, a science-based modeling and forecast capability–one that links surface water and groundwater–is needed to enable water managers and users to better track the state of water resources.
  • Enhance NOAA internal coordination of drought services: Most stakeholders accessed NOAA’s drought-related services through local National Weather Service (NWS) field offices (e.g., Weather Forecast Office or River Forecast Center). NWS field offices often rely on products and services including data, seasonal prediction, and research capabilities that reside in national centers, labs, and extramural partners.
  • Design environmental monitoring projects on sub-regional or watershed-specific scales: There is strong need for NOAA to continue developing projects that improve our understanding of environmental changes, particularly at a watershed-scale. NOAA’s successful Russian River Habitat Blueprint project is an example of where our forecasting talent and fisheries management expertise infuses with that of local scientists and organizations to implement stewardship goals that promote sustainable use of water resources.

NOAA has a lengthy history of assessing its forecast and warning services in the wake of major weather events. This history dates to a tornado outbreak in Dallas, Texas, in 1957, where it was found that citizens “knew little or nothing of personal safety rules regarding an encounter with a tornado.” Since then, service assessments have been conducted for major floods, hurricanes, winter storms, heat waves, wildfire outbreaks, and even a space weather event. However, this is the first time a service assessment on drought has been conducted.

An implementation plan to track the progress of these recommendations will follow in the months ahead. To read the report, visit:

Source: NOAA

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