Flash Drought is Coming

EDDI - Northeast June 25

“Flash drought” refers to drought conditions that develop unusually quickly, in effect sneaking up on farmers and policy managers.  This kind of drought doesn’t happen often in the Northeast but it did this year.

“Flash drought” refers to drought conditions that develop unusually quickly, in effect sneaking up on farmers and policy managers. This kind of drought doesn’t happen often in the Northeast but it did this year.

Flash droughts result when lack of rainfall combines with heat waves and low humidity. If these conditions occur during the longest days of summer, the effect is magnified. High heat and long days can bring about intense evaporation and rapidly drying soils. In parts of the country where soils have a lower water-holding capacity, the rapid drying can quickly lead to severe plant stress and even death. Irrigation systems are often undersized relative to water needs during flash drought. The Midwest drought of 2012 began as a flash drought as did the 2017 Northern Plains drought. This year, northern parts of Maine and New York as well as nearby parts of Canada experienced record-setting heat leading to flash drought conditions from late May through late June. The unusually high evaporative demand (drying power of the air) for the Northeast can be seen in the June “Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI)”. This product is produced by the NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Laboratory.

EDDI - Northeast June 25

Further high evaporative demand in August helped shift more of New England into “severe drought” (D2) conditions in the most recent release of the US Drought Monitor. Recent research suggests that flash drought will become more common as the climate warms putting added stress on producers. Many common practices can reduce evaporation and slow the development of drought. For more on drought conditions and responses to lessen impacts in the Northeast, visit our page, 'Current Northeast Drought Conditions'.