The 2012 drought of the Central US was one for the record books. About a third of the lower 48 states were under severe or exceptional drought with record breaking heat and almost no rainfall, impacting the Central Plains states – our crop belt – most severely. Here in the great state of Michigan, we saw dramatic tree fruit and crop losses because of the paralyzing heat and extreme aridity. Be thankful for our natural abundance in freshwater! This drought went widely unpredicted by our top forecasters and forecast systems and as a result created enormous impacts in agriculture, commerce, public health, and water resource management. We are still feeling these impacts today. This drought was unique in that it was rapid onset. Droughts are typically a slowly developing phenomenon with precipitation deficits building until the impacts are apparent, sometimes months after the first deficit recorded. In this case, precipitation deficits were so severe that it set up a “positive feedback loop” over a short period of time, creating crippling heat and depleted moisture transport into the Central Plains for most of the summer.
My research, under a federal grant through NOAA and my advisor, Dr. Lifeng Luo, attempts to identify better methodology (post-processing) to apply to existing climatological information and dynamical models to produce more accurate and reliable drought forecasts at the seasonal scale. In particular, my research attempts to quantify the forecast skill of a statistical methodology known as Bayesian merging in the case of the 2012 drought. Finally, a comparison of forecast skill will be performed between the operational ensemble approach that failed to predict this drought and the Bayesian approach. This approach has been developed over the last few years by Dr. Luo and a Princeton University and has been proven effective in predicting past drought events through similar case studies, however the 2012 drought is unique from most other droughts due its rapid onset. Even if a drought like that of 2012 doesn’t happen for another 100 years, we cannot afford to miss big events like this.