Chen Develops Flash Drought Prediction Tool

A dry desert, with severely cracked ground surrounding a dry tree stump

L. Gwen Chen, ESSIC/CISESS Associate Research Scientist, is first author on a new paper in Atmosphere about flash drought prediction.


The article, titled “Real-Time Prediction of Areas Susceptible to Flash Drought Development”, discusses the researchers’ subseasonal tool to predict areas susceptible to flash droughts, a type of drought that develops quickly, is difficult to predict, and can cause major agricultural losses. Using data from the Phase 2 of the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS-2), the tool calculates the rapid change index (RCI), a measure of moisture stress changes which’s negative value is associated with the development of drought. 


Like all drought variables, RCI changes over time, and it is difficult to capture drought development signals by monitoring RCI maps. The researchers created an intuitive drought prediction map that directly depicts drought tendency by identifying grid points with large RCI decreases and with a 3-month standardized precipitation index less than −0.4.


The real-time tool started running on 1 April 2018 at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and has been used to support CPC’s Monthly Drought Outlook efforts. The performance of the tool is evaluated using both retrospective and real-time predictions. The assessment shows promising results in predicting potential flash drought development, and the interplay between precipitation and high temperatures appears to be a challenge for flash drought prediction.


L. Gwen Chen is an Associate Research Scientist at ESSIC/CISESS. She is currently working on drought prediction and monitoring to support CPC’s missions. Her research interests include extreme events, hydroclimatology, hydrometeorology, and hydrology. Dr. Chen has served on several national and local committees, including AGU Precipitation Committee and ASCE/EWRI Risk, Uncertainty, and Probabilistic Approaches Committee. She also serves as a reviewer for National Science Foundation and many peer-reviewed journals, and was selected as a 2009 Outstanding Reviewer for the Journal of Hydrologic Engineering.


To access the article, click here: “Real-Time Prediction of Areas Susceptible to Flash Drought Development”.


To access the tool, click here.