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Experts talk about how U.S. Drought Monitor report is compiled

More than half of Oklahoma remains in some category of drought, according to new U.S. Drought Monitor report.
by Bryan Painter Modified: July 19, 2013 at 6:00 pm •  Published: July 18, 2013

Fields take on patterns etched by cracks a foot deep or more.

And soil is reduced to powder form.

Those visuals have easily been found not only in droughts of the past but in the current one that in portions of Oklahoma has persisted since October 2010.

But how do you determine the various degrees of drought? After all, a drought often has a slower developing effect than other weather hazards such as blizzards or tornadoes.

That's where the U.S. Drought Monitor report comes in. Thursday, the latest report showed 59 percent of Oklahoma remains in some category of drought, which is up from 51 percent from a week ago. Increases primarily came with areas of northeastern Oklahoma added to the moderate drought category.

Improvement was seen in terms of exceptional drought, the worst of the report's categories. Areas of southwest and western Oklahoma were shifted from exceptional to extreme drought, leaving only 4 percent of the state, all in portions of the Panhandle, in exceptional drought.

“The upper-level storm that visited us from the east has now become legendary,” said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. “I've seen those in meteorological circles say they've never seen such a storm develop and move from the east in summer, at least of nontropical origin. And the rain it provided was even more famous.”

Other changes from rains this week in areas of the state may be reflected in next week's report.

But how is this report formed and by whom?

Basis of the report

There are 11 national authors of the report from among the National Drought Mitigation Center, the Climate Prediction Center, the National Climatic Data Center, the USDA World Ag Outlook Board, and the Western Regional Climate Center. And there are 350 other experts from all 50 states and Puerto Rico who can provide information to the authors based on whether drought conditions exist in their area.

The U.S. Drought Monitor began in 1999 and represents an assessment of drought conditions taken from hundreds of indicators and reviewed by those experts in the field.

Climatologist Mark Svoboda, who works at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was one of the co-founders along with Doug LeComte, who is retired but at the time was working in the Climate Prediction Center.

Part of the intent was that this would be drought's version of what the Enhanced Fujita scale is to tornadoes, Svoboda said.

“The initial motivation was to heighten the visibility of drought,” he said. “This was a way to compare apples and oranges and bananas, fruit cocktail instead of all apples and apples. It allows us to bring in new indicators as they become developed over time. It's not a static formula.

“The essence of a ranking percentile is basically how often has this occurred or not occurred.”

The Drought Monitor is produced weekly and classifies drought severity into four major categories, with a fifth category depicting “abnormally dry” conditions. The category thresholds assigned to locations on a map are determined from a number of indicators, or tools, and to this is added subjective interpretation, Svoboda said.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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