Should We Name Droughts?

Cousin Eddie

Where was Iago? And why am I calling it Iago?

Last Thursday, most of South Carolina skirted a snow storm and not just any snow storm- Iago. I didn’t realize until last week that the Weather Channel had decided on their own to start naming winter storms.

Amazingly almost half of their winter names are already gone this season. I have missed Athena, Brutus, Caesar, Draco, Euclid, Freyr, Gandolf and Helen. Weather Channel claims naming a storm raises awareness by supposedly making it easier to follow and reference.

“Naming winter storms will raise awareness, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact on the public overall.” – Tom Niziol, the Weather Channel’s winter weather expert

If the Weather Channel can take erratic,uneven, and often ill-defined storms—sometimes with multiple centers—and name them, why can’t we name our most serious droughts. Would a name for a drought help with public communication?

When I write about droughts in reports, I usually call out a drought with a year or geographical area, such as the 2002 drought or 2006-2007 drought. Some media outlets have called the drought centered in the Midwest the Great Drought, but are not consistent. Before hurricanes had a face, they were  identified in a similar fashion for their geographic location or intensity; hence, the Galveston Storm or the Big Blow of 1913.

How could you name a drought that you really can’t see?

Trying to visualize a drought is like trying to watch a 3D movie without the glasses. Three drought dimensions are needed to see a drought; severity, duration, and the spatially impacted area. Since 1999, the Drought Monitor has tried to be our 3D glasses allowing us to visualize drought the way the Fujita scale measures tornado destruction or the Saffir-Simpson Scale measures hurricane intensity.

Drought Monitor classifies drought magnitude  into five levels: D0 (abnormally dry) to D4 (exceptional drought). However, it would be hard to give an identity to a shape-shifting, time-fitting drought. I compressed 12 years of the Drought Monitor maps into 48 seconds of video which shows how hard it would be to name the worst droughts.

However, if one came up with some triggers such as D3 or D4 drought in multiple-states for some initial duration, maybe the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln could officially name the drought. Here are some initial naming suggestions:

  • Underworld Gods of Greek Mythology aka Hades or Cronus
  • How about favorite movie characters, Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation comes to my mind.
  • Auction naming rights off to the highest bidder.

So, do you think naming a drought would help in public communication?


  1. I think this is a great idea. Someone should tell Cousin Eddie to get the heck out of town!

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