Summer heat posing drought risk; national weather agency releases new drought watch tool

According to the new NOAA Climate Prediction Center, which just became live last month, June’s excessive heat has the capability to lead to a regional rapid onset drought.

“Also known as a flash drought, these events are tied to extreme temperatures and other variables that quickly soak up available moisture,” reported the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin last week.

“Unlike slow-evolving drought, where below-normal precipitation is often the major driver, flash drought intensification is more likely when low precipitation is accompanied by weather extremes such as high temperatures, low humidity, strong winds, and/or sunny skies, which enhances evaporative demand,” say officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“These rapid changes can quickly remove available water from the landscape, leading to stressed plants, reduced crop production, increased fire risk, and more. If not monitored properly, flash drought impacts may catch people off guard as more abrupt changes are different—and potentially more damaging—than those that people have more time to prepare for,” NOAA officials say.

A better tool

“Many existing operational drought outlooks are either not issued frequently enough or at high enough resolution for effective flash drought prediction, or lack variables relevant to flash drought (such as evapotranspiration and soil moisture),” climate experts decided.

So they have designed a new tool to track drought conditions as they develop quickly.

The Rapid Onset Drought (ROD) hazard outlook became operational in May of this year, and can provide a forecast for the coming 2-4 weeks for users, including farmers and public safety officials.

The tool can be found on the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center at

Potomac River levels

The Potomac River’s flow at the USGS gage at Point of Rocks was hovering around 2,600 cubic feet per second (cfs), and dropping last Thursday, June 20. If the flow goes below 2,000 cfs, ICPRB’s CO-OP team will initiate daily drought monitoring.

“In the case of a drought, the DC Metro area is well protected due to decades of planning and preparation,” the Interstate Commission reports.

Be water wise

River and water experts remind the public that there are simple daily ways to reduce water usage.

Here are a few tips to be water wise:

— Fix leaky pipes.

–Take shorter showers.

— Choose native plants for your landscaping.

–Capture and reuse water from activities like washing vegetables or waiting for the water to warm up. This water can be used to water plants or to clean.

–Brushing teeth? Washing hands? Doing dishes? Turn the faucet off when you are not actively using the water during these daily activities.