Newly created for the climate lexicon: 'flash droughts'

Obligatory cracked Earth image from California drought, 2014

Obligatory cracked Earth image from California drought, 2014

From the NATIONAL CENTER FOR ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH/UNIVERSITY CORPORATION FOR ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH comes this twist of the long used “flash flood” term used to describe a weather event. The definition of flash flood is:

” a local flood of short duration generally resulting from heavy rainfall in the immediate vicinity”

A more detailed description is at the National Severe Storms Lab.

What is clear though is that there is no dictionary definition of “flash drought” only the opinion of two researchers who created the term in a BAMS article in April of 2016.

Flash drought refers to relatively short periods of warm surface temperature and anomalously low and rapid decreasing soil moisture.

Now, it’s entered the lexicon with this press release from NCAR. It’s just another example of how climate proponents are using words to scare the population needlessly. The term is misleading at best and the definition these two researchers appear to have created is widely open to interpretation, and abuse by climate activists. Look for somebody to try linking the phrase to “climate change” next.

For example, if there’s a month of no rain in the upper midwest of the USA , due to a rex block high pressure event, long considered to be a weather pattern event, you can bet your sweet bippy that you’ll see headlines like “Flash drought in midwest is just another indicator of climate change”.

While the forecasting science on display below could very well be useful, (or not, it’s a model) I fear like so many other weather events in meteorology it will be co-opted for “the cause” of climate change.

Soil moisture, snowpack data could help predict ‘flash droughts’

Severe 2012 drought could have been predicted months in advance

BOULDER, Colo. — New research suggests that “flash droughts” — like the one that unexpectedly gripped the Southern Rockies and Midwest in the summer of 2012 — could be predicted months in advance using soil moisture and snowpack data.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) analyzed the conditions leading up to the 2012 drought, which ultimately caused $30 billion in economic losses, looking for any warning signs that a drought was on the way. In a study funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, the scientists find that observations of snowmelt and soil moisture could have predicted the ensuing drought up to four months in advance.

“The 2012 drought over the Midwest was one of the most severe and extensive U.S. droughts since the 1930s Dust Bowl, but it was also extremely challenging to predict,” said Debasish PaiMazumder, lead author of the study. “This study demonstrated the potential to improve seasonal drought outlooks in the future, giving farmers, water planners, and others more time to prepare.”

Seasonal drought forecasts issued in May 2012 for the upcoming summer did not foresee a drought forming in the country’s midsection. But by the end of August, a drought that had started in the Southern Rockies had spread across the Midwest, parching Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri.

These flash droughts — which form and intensify rapidly — can catch forecasters off guard because they are not preceded by any large-scale climate patterns that could act as a warning signal. For example, one contributor to the recent California drought was a persistent high-pressure system parked off the west coast of Canada that deflected storms away from the state. Because forecasters could identify the high-pressure system, they could also accurately predict fewer storms and a worsening of the drought.

Previous research has shown that looking at soil moisture alone could improve the lead-time of drought predictions by one to two months. PaiMazumder and NCAR colleague James Done were interested in whether they could extend this further by adding snowpack into the equation.

“Advance knowledge of a drought even a month or two ahead of time can greatly minimize the effects on society,” said Anjuli Bamzai, program director in NSF’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research. “This study highlights the role of snowpack and soil moisture conditions in predicting the sudden onset of drought.”

To explore the physical connections among snowpack, soil moisture, and drought, the researchers analyzed data collected between 1980-2012. To supplement those observations, they also explored the physical connections in a new NCAR-based community Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model dataset comprising 24 simulations of the period 1990-2000 and 2012. Because each simulation was run with small tweaks to the way the model represents atmospheric physics, the result was a broad look at different climate scenarios that could have plausibly unfolded during the study period.

“The model helped us get a handle on how robust the relationships between snowpack, soil moisture, and drought are,” Done said. “The stronger the relationship, the better a predictor is.”

While observations of snowpack and soil moisture could have helped predict the 2012 drought, the method does not replace other drought prediction measures that identify large-scale phenomena that frequently lead to drought conditions.

“This is another ingredient that could be used when making seasonal drought forecasts,” Done said. “But it’s not the only ingredient, and for many droughts that are tied to large-scale precursors, it may not be the most important one.”


92 thoughts on “Newly created for the climate lexicon: 'flash droughts'

    • No, it means it’s light a “flash light”. You turn it on and over a period of several weeks it’s getting dimmer and dimmer and then goes out. This is _exactly_ how the soil dries out during a “flash flood”.
      Similarly, when the weather gets progressively warmer from March to June this a “flash spring” or a “flash season”.

    • Wheat farmers, for example, rely on flash droughts. The only time they can harvest is during a flash drought.

  1. Average Maria or Joe reading new AGW billboard: Hm. “Flash.” “Flashy.” “Flashy sales gimmick.” (roll eyes — turn on heel and walk away shaking head scornfully)
    ” FLASH DROUGHTS!! WAAATCH OUT!!!! Trust me. I’m a scientist.
    [snip this picture was unneeded here, and off-topic – mod]

  2. Does that mean that as a flash flood can sweep people away and drown them in a matter is seconds then a flash drought can cause instantaneous and lethal dehydration in a matter of seconds?

    • I think this terminology will backfire. A flash flood happens in minutes and can drown and kill. A flash freeze happens in minutes or hours and can freeze and kill. A flash drought… Doesn’t do much at all.
      At best, it adds to alarm fatigue. At worst, it’s going to add to the total distrust of research that’s growing.

  3. Perhaps we need a term to describe these sudden press releases. How about “Flash Science”?
    Eugene WR Gallun

      • Make that +3 ( Thanks for the bleep JM), Although the language could be improved I still think there value in this report. but I getting sick of it always being blamed on Canada. If this research could be tied in with others , like El Nino/LaNina , repeating high pressure areas and other indicators, it could well have a positive result.

      • Asybot: Where did I say something so bad it had to be bleeped?? I would apologize, but, I have no idea what it was!

      • Sorry Janice, by the bleep I meant the update you send me regarding last week’s storm around the Pacific Northwest and it’s ultimate “flash out”, so sorry, personally I thought the “FlashMan ” pic fitted pretty well, I had a chuckle.

      • Thanks for the clarification, Asybot. In American English, when we insert a “bleep” into a sentence (usually uttered as an imitation of the broadcaster’s overriding, loud tone “bleeeeeep!”), it indicates that a word or words were censored, so, “You rotten bleep” would mean, “You rotten {bad word}.”
        Thanks for the support of my attempt at humor above. Just to clarify (for anyone who might misunderstand and think I posted a lewd photo), it was the tacky/flashy CLOTHING which the stereotypical scientist-looking, man in the photo I posted was wearing (not a man “flashing”) that was the analogy.
        Glad you saw my post on the thread informing you about the fizzled-out propaganda storm around this area.

    • When you’re as dishonest as the Climatists at NCAR have become, any mockery and derision thrown their way is well earned.
      Let’s see how “flash” climate malaprprisms we can create.
      -“Flash” Climate models: (def) abrupt onset of numerology using a supercomputer. i.e. Massive garbage in, massive and quick garbage out.
      -” Flash” ocean acidification: (def) abrupt changes (drops) in local seawater pH, usually die to natural upwelling of deep water. i.e. Nutrient laden water for bountiful bio-diversity.
      – “Flash” stupidity (def): an NCAR weekly intramural climatism presentation by a climatist.

    • in Aus we would say”its NOT that flash”
      meaning its cr*p
      funny really cos here droughts more the norm than not;-)

  4. A flash drought is a period of intensely dry non-rain. If it was just any old dry, non-rain then it wouldn’t be flash. Pay attention.

    • And if it’s wet rain [proper wet-type rain] it’s a flush, as WC Fields would have said.
      Auto – still puzzling about planning authorities that cannot work out what a ‘Flood Plain’ does . . . .

  5. Here in New Hampshire we’re experiencing “flash fall foliage”. The brilliant colors can blind you if you aren’t careful.

    • Atmosphere will “precipitate” dry cleaning solution. Go outside with your suit on for a free dry cleaning.

    • When the terrible “Flash Gordon” movie came out (with the terrible, TERRIBLE Queen song), you can imagine how we teens would use it when someone, say, wiped out skating: “Flash!!! Ahaaaaaaa”.
      See also: Einstein (used to indicate something isn’t REALLY smart).

    • Oh come on now, how can you not like the Flash Gordon movie. The song link made me smile…. Any case let them have flash droughts otherwise we’ll end up with named droughts and categories… Today we’re tracking flash drought Janice currently a category 2 but expected to dry to a category 3 by the weekend….

      • Getting drier by the minute!
        I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.
        No man goes before his time, unless the boss leaves early.
        (thanks to Groucho Marx 🙂 )

      • Yes, but I mark on the curve, and as a Queen song…well, its no “Fat Bottom Girls”, but its pretty bad.

      • “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
        Can I keep that one? Never heard it before but I know the result, I read a lot so I must be well educated ( 🙂 )

      • Oh come on now, come on now. How can you denigrate “fat bottom girls” The album cover itself was a masterpiece of art to american adolescents. Is nothing sacred…

      • I should add that Queen shows what you can do with a beat, a couple of power chords… and well then… Freddie Mercury singing… We are the Champions…

  6. Not sure how this drought panned out-
    “World-wide Drought in 1926”
    A gloomy Prediction. Some meteorologists are predicting an unusually dry summer in 1926- 27. There are those who anticipate a drought over the greater part of the world’s surface. There is plenty of evidence to support the theory that: certain changes will take place in the sun bringing fierce summers at intervals of slightlyover half a century.
    The last two drought. years in the cycle were in 1871 and 1816 in both
    yours exceptional aridity occurred witli many unusual phenomena.
    In Eastern Europe and Asia there were devastating famines as a result, and in Western Europe conditions were nearly as bad America experienced the same visitations; tin* 1871-72 season was the driest since the European occupation and Australia did not escape.Research further back shows that for almost as long as records are
    available this year cycle has run as egularly as Tlalley’s -comet.

    • Well, TonyL, now they will!
      “Laugh In” — “Very interesting, but stupid.”

      Could one of you guys who watched that show (it was before my family had a TV… and also, I was pretty little) please tell me this: When my dad would imitate those guys (don’t know where he watched TV, but, he must have), he would put a strong German accent into it (and it was much funnier!), as Forest and Oe did above, as in, “Veeehhdy eentayraysteenk. Baht, SHTUPEED!” (so us little kids ran around yelling, “Baht SHTUPEED!” and laughing and laughing)
      So, my question is, was there another actor who did that schtick using a thick accent like that? Or did my dad (and lots of others) just polish it up?

      • Thanks for that funny video of Seargent Schultz of “Hogans Heroes,” Asbyot. That actor did a much better German accent (for comedy purposes). But, no, my dad was imitating the “Laugh In” guy — he only used that one phrase, “Veeeehdy eentayraysteenk — baht shtupeed!” I just thought there must have been a better actor on “Laugh In” than the ones in the clip I found above.

    • “Sock it to me.” (the late Judy Carne)

      At WUWT, you can learn about all kinds of “gee whiz” things! 🙂

  7. So, when we get winds from the east hear in So Cal, we call them “Santa Ana Winds.” Are these going to be “Flash Droughts” in the future? The world has gone insane.
    The Santa Ana winds are strong, extremely dry down-slope winds that originate inland and affect coastal Southern California and northern Baja California. Santa Ana winds blow mostly in autumn and winter, but can arise at other times of the year also.

  8. I live on top of a 450 foot high pile of sand and gravel just off the the shore of Lake Michigan, adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes. We can have 3 days of steady rain, and within 6 hours the top 4 inches of soil, (if you want to call it that), is practically dry. I suspect that means that I live in a perpetual state of FLASH DROUGHT!

    • Mark,
      Can’t you get something from the Social for that?
      Extreme Hydrologic Deprivation Allowance, or similar?
      Here in the UK, the system is so complex that I believe there is a family in Chipping Sodbury who live high-on-the-hog on their EHDA.

  9. There is this thing about me in a particular point.
    Where through movies and second hand information mediums related to a particular given history , I got to a point of a kinda of an information that a properly illiterate person, who could not even spell happened to be the best Australian best seller writer, or so it was for some time at least.
    Is this a factual truth or just an urban legend???
    THE only thing I can say at this point is that when weighting illiteracy versus idiocy, still no matter how literate the idiocy is, still it remains that, regardless of the high degree of literacy involved with it, it still is idiotic at the very least.
    No amount of literacy can change that…….
    Anyway very much appreciated if some one can take the trouble and help me in figuring out what the actuality about the illiterate best selling Australian……Can’t even recall his name at this point, but there is a movie about that story…:)

  10. And “they” say that “the science is settled” and come out with things like this.
    It just shows that the science is settled only if you are on the politically correct side of CAGW.

  11. A new definition?, ah!, a whole new, fresh book of headlines: “Our area experienced an unprecedented series of flash droughts this week.”

  12. This stems from the age of instant gratification and flash news. The millenials don’t have time fore a proper drought. We need to have a continuous cycle of flash floods straight to flash droughts and back again.

  13. I developed Soil water Balance model that works on daily rainfall and Published in Agric. For. Meteor. in early 1980s. This provides the basic information on soil moisture relative to evapotranspiration and crop/cropping system. It gives the forecast of the success of crop. Using this, irrigation schedule was prepared and published in Brazilian Journal. Crop forecasting of crop production bulletins were issues in Mozambique & Ethiopia at 10 day interval. In all these there is no “flash” drought. We used use mid-season drought correction with supplemental water. Flash in sudden rain is possible but not in drought. The authors appear that they don’t understand the basics of the word “flash”. We must blame the journals for publication of such poor quality reports.
    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  14. A drought is defined as a “period of below-average precipitation in a given region resulting in prolonged shortages in its water supply ….” A flash drought can therefore only be a short period of prolonged …..

    • No, no, it’s a prolonged period which happens very quickly. It’s a relativistic effect.
      Please pay attention at the back. 😉

  15. Are these the same clowns that started referring to an abnormally cold winter as “a cold snap?”

  16. ..Dang, my Flash Drive for my backup system died last night and I don’t have a secondary anymore…, does that mean I am experiencing a “Flash Drought” ??…D’oh !!

  17. Well, ya see, nature isn’t cooperating so they have to make stuff up and wrap it all in new terminology so that it sounds terrible. Terrible, I tell you. If we don’t think we’re doomed, they’re doomed. So they are panicking.

  18. ““The 2012 drought over the Midwest was one of the most severe and extensive U.S. droughts since the 1930s Dust Bowl,”
    2012 was one year. The 1930’s Dust Bowl drought lasted the entire decade of the 1930’s.

  19. article: “Seasonal drought forecasts issued in May 2012 for the upcoming summer did not foresee a drought forming in the country’s midsection. But by the end of August, a drought that had started in the Southern Rockies had spread across the Midwest, parching Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri.”
    This is ridiculuous. A “flash drought” occurs when a high pressure system sits over one area for an extended period of time. The longer the high pressure system sits there, the hotter and drier it gets underneath the high pressure system. These scientists should watch the movement of high pressure systems
    and if they stop moving and hang out over one area, the scientists can predict that a drought will occur. Now, predicting when the high pressure system is going to stop moving and start moving is a little more complicated.
    article: “These flash droughts — which form and intensify rapidly — can catch forecasters off guard because they are not preceded by any large-scale climate patterns that could act as a warning signal.”
    That depends on how quickly they are talking about the drought occuring. It certainly will take several months to set it, and there has to be a high pressure system associated with this. I don’t see how they can miss the association. I don’t know why they are puzzled.
    Here’s the “hot and dry” warning signal I use every year: I study the weather patterns moving west to east and usually around early summer a high pressure system will develop over some part of the U.S., and I watch it/them very closely and pray to the Good Lord that He will keep that high pressure system moving and not park it over my house, because I know if it is parked over my house, it is going to get hot and dry in very short order. The keys: Look for high pressure systems and whether they stop moving west to east or not. If they are moving, we’re good, if they are not moving, someone is getting hot and dry.
    article: “For example, one contributor to the recent California drought was a persistent high-pressure system parked off the west coast of Canada that deflected storms away from the state.”
    They have stumbled on the answer. “One contributor” they say. What’s another contributor? I would say the stationary high pressure system is the primary contributor.
    article: “Because forecasters could identify the high-pressure system, they could also accurately predict fewer storms and a worsening of the drought.”
    Apparently, they have a hard time indentifying high pressure systems. I don’t understand why, my local meteorologist shows them to us all the time. Maybe I should give them his number.
    High pressure systems that sit over the same area of land for a long time are the cause of droughts. It takes a few months for a drought to form so I don’t know if it is proper to call it a “flash drought”. The only way you would have a “flash drought” is if you were just starting to dry to the point of drought, and then you get a heavy rainstorm that wipes out the drought. That would be a flash drought because it was only a flash in the pan.

    • Thanks TA, great analysis. As an ex farmer that is exactly the way many of us predict all facets of farming, year in and out. From pruning to seeding, irrigation expectations and so on. To us farmers it is the only way we can farm. By that I mean we don’t just look at 24 hour forecast ( although needed in the short term apps of FI spraying ) it is those events like a high or low long term weather situations that dictate what we do every season.

  20. Even at Lake Disappointment in Western Australia where the evaporation rate is over 4.5-metres per year, there are no ‘flash droughts’ . There are flash floods there, but no ‘flash droughts’.

  21. I predict that the Earth will experience its first true “Flash Drought” when the sun turns into a super-nova and flash evaporates all the water.

  22. I just had a flash thought – as opposed to a real thought – what about a flash freeze and how is that different from an ordinary freeze [or not freeze]?

    • NW sage —
      Actually i believe “flash freeze” is a technique used in food processing plants. It refers to exposing processed food to an extremely low temperature freezing it in seconds.
      Eugene WR Gallun

  23. As a Toronto Blue Jays fan, I might have to agree with the term “flash drought”, but only if by that you mean “overpaid bums who strike out, pop out and hit into double plays too much”…

  24. What the…?
    I swear it’s like some people read 1984 and instead of being horrified they’re like, “Hey you know what? There’s some good ideas in here! I especially like this Newspeak stuff. So simple and straightforward.”

  25. i would propose following new climate lexicon:
    flash snowfall: any 2+ inches of snowfall in 2-3 days time, of course due to climate change
    flash wind: any 10+ mph wind increase over 2-3 days time, of course due to climate change
    flash drought: any 1+ day of sunny weather
    flash rain: any 1+ inch of rainfall in 24 hours
    and so on
    do i need to add sarc tags?

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