Drought’s Selfie Stick: Looking back to look forward

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Whoosh. The metal rod came out of thin air. He attached it to his phone and telescoped the phone out to take a picture of himself. As I was laughing to myself, an older gentleman behind me taps me on my shoulder and asked “What the hell is that?” A selfie stick. Yes, it was a beautiful day yesterday at the Clemson baseball game. Yes, it was photo worthy. However, I will say all of my baseball pictures tend to be forward-looking out over the green grass and orange tiger paws. His picture was looking back at himself; a different perspective.

You know what? If any natural hazard needs a selfie stick, it is probably a drought. Drought affects more people than any other natural hazard. Drought is complex. It lacks a universal definition. Like economic recessions, it is difficult to know where they start and end.

Drought monitor probably does the best job trying to get perspective helping to show the complex nature of drought and its impacts in a simple way. How do they do it? What is their selfie stick? The primary map 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.

There is no question that California ground zero for drought in the US now. I plotted this graph which shows a comparison of extreme drought conditions in California versus Georgia and South Carolina for the last fourteen years. California drought appears to be a different sustained beast than our droughts in the past fourteen years.

This weekend I was trying to find a couple of drought images from our 2007 drought for a presentation. I struggled to find a couple of images that would remind folks about the drought. I ditched my usual tree ring PowerPoint slide. While it is cool to know there was a twenty-year drought here in South Carolina in the 1700s, it is hard to relate on an emotional level. I ended up using a picture from a bridge uncovered by the drought of record for Lake Hartwell and a drought monitor image.

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It is encouraging many southeastern states are looking back to move forward with drought initiatives, even when the reservoirs are full. This past week, for example, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources released proposed updates to its drought rule. These proposed updates would dictate how droughts get declared and what happens when they do.

We are always living in the shadow of drought and it’s important not to forget it. After a Clemson victory last fall, I saw this guy with the biggest homemade selfie stick I have ever seen. Funny and incredible, although I am sure he was able to capture a different perspective that was unforgettable.

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