8:00 AM today, just like every Thursday morning since 1999, a map is posted online. This is no ordinary map. This map is the everyman’s doppler radar for droughts; helping to show the complex nature of drought and its impacts in a simple way. This map is the Drought Monitor.
Drought Monitor’s origins can be traced to The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) which was founded in the mid 1990s at the University of Nebraska by Dr. Don Wilhite. NDMC approached NOAA with the idea of a regular product that would monitor drought for the United States. After some initial testing and collaboration, the Drought Monitor was officially born in August of 1999.
One of the biggest misconceptions with the Drought Monitor is that they have some Google like deck of servers crunching an immense set of climate algorithms to produce these drought maps on a weekly basis. This is not the case. No Staples Easy button here to push.
The process begins with one of the eleven primary authors of the Drought Monitor. Each author is in charge for a two week interval before relinquishing responsibility to the next author. The primary author releases a first draft of the map every Monday to over 300 local experts for input. After receiving input and impact information, the author adjusts, if needed, the map and releases subsequent drafts. The map is finalized for publishing every Thursday morning.
Unbelievably, there is no allocated federal budget to produce the weekly Drought Monitor. The Drought Monitor continues to post–thanks only to “in kind” contributions from the NDMC, USDA, and NOAA. Even with limited funding they are investigating new technologies including the use of higher resolution data sources to better represent the Drought Monitor map at the county level.
I am not sure they realize it, but the Drought Monitor owns Google search on the word drought. Don’t believe me, type in the word drought into Google. Basically, anyone from a congressman, to a farmer, to an engineer, or to a landscaper, that is interested in drought will go to the Drought Monitor.
Would it be blasphemy to think about online ads on the Drought Monitor to fund improvements? Any other suggestions for the great folks that produce the Drought Monitor.
Special Thanks to Brian A. Fuchs, Climatologist, with National Drought Mitigation Center for answering my questions about the Drought Monitor.