July 6, 2016--Droughts of the future will not be the droughts of the past (USGS)

Due to its prevalence and implications for humans, wildlife, and ecosystems, drought is a focal research theme of the North Central Climate Science Center (NC CSC). From December 7-8, 2015, twenty-eight scientists, managers, and communicators gathered in Fort Collins, CO to discuss and synthesize the existing knowledge of climate change and ecological drought across the North Central region. Over the course of the workshop, participants agreed on several important factors that exemplify the changes occurring in the region:

1. Droughts are a natural process in the North Central U.S: Data from the past 100 years show that periods of drought are normal for the region. In fact, droughts lasting several years are not uncommon, and many species that inhabit the region have adapted to these conditions. However, as the climate changes, droughts may last longer and cover larger areas, potentially pushing species beyond their adaptive capacity.

2. Temperatures are increasing and precipitation patterns are changing: Over the past 50 years, average temperatures have increased by almost 2° Fahrenheit, with much of the change occurring during the winter months. Precipitation patterns are also projected to change. These changes will have implications for hydrology, vegetation, and wildlife in the region.

3. Greater demand for less water: Water resources in parts of the region are already stressed, with changes being seen in ground water levels and stream flow. These problems could be exacerbated by climate change and have effects on both human and ecological communities.

Drought in the North Central U.S. is typically discussed in terms of its impacts on municipal water supplies, agriculture, and livestock grazing. Yet as temperatures increase, precipitation patterns change, and water resources are stressed, it is increasingly important to consider drought in the context of its effects on ecosystems, species, and habitat. Moreover, as described in a new paper, there is no "one size fits all" method for understanding local drought impacts and responses. The theme of Ecological Drought helps to re-frame the discussion and bring a new focus to the environmental implications of drought. To read the full article visit the USGS.