NOAA's Drought Task Force was established in October 2011 with the ambitious goal of achieving significant new advances in the ability to understand, monitor and predict drought over North America. The Task Force (duration is October 2011 – September 2014) is an initiative of NOAA’s Climate Program Office Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) program in partnership with NIDIS. It brings together over thirty leading MAPP-funded drought scientists from multiple academic and federal institutions (involves scientists from NOAA’s research laboratories and centers, NASA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NCAR and many universities), in a concerted research effort that builds on individual MAPP research projects. These projects span the wide spectrum of drought research needed to make fundamental advances, from those aimed at the basic understanding of drought mechanisms to those aimed at testing new drought monitoring and prediction tools for operational and service purposes (as part of NCEP’s Climate Test Bed). The Drought Task Force provides focus and coordination to MAPP drought research activities, and also facilitates synergies with other national and international drought research efforts, including those by the GDIS.

As part of its Year One efforts, the Task Force has developed a drought test-bed framework that individual research groups can use to test/evaluate methods and ideas. Central to this is a focus on three high-profile North American droughts which are key areas for NIDIS early warning system development (1998-2004 western US drought, 2006-2007 SE US drought, 2011- 2012 Tex-Mex drought over the Southern Plains). The framework facilitates collaboration among projects, defines metrics to assess the quality of monitoring and prediction products, and helps to develop an experimental drought monitoring and prediction system that incorporates and assesses recent advances. Three working groups (WG) were formed to address the major aspects of the test-bed: 1) WGI - Metrics: to define and apply metrics to evaluate advances in drought monitoring and prediction 2) WGII - Case Studies: to analyze drought cases by integrating all aspects of drought research and 3) WGIII - Experimental System: to incorporate research advances in an experimental drought monitoring and prediction system and assess improvements. To date, the Drought Task Force has proposed a Journal of Hydrometeorology special collection entitled “Advances in Drought Monitoring and Prediction” that will include research papers from individual Task Force members as well as a number of collective papers.

In Year Two, the Drought Task Force plans to build on the foundation of collaboration established in Year One by continuing to press the overarching goal of evaluating drought science, and by concentrating efforts in several specific areas. High-level goals include:

  1. Improving our understanding of the nature of drought, its manifestations and causes, and improving narrative communication thereof (key issues include the role of soil moisture, ocean conditions, evaporative demand, land surface-precipitation-temperature relationships, cross-temporal and cumulative aspects of drought risk).
  2. Quantifying current monitoring and prediction capabilities, and particularly improvements attributable to the Drought Task Force projects.
  3. Identifying and investigating areas that offer the most promise for improving operational capabilities, and strengthening the drought research to operations connection with active linkages, in preparation for Year Three.

In order to achieve the above goals, the Task Force activities will be organized around specific themes consisting of 1) drought relevant science issues, 2) drought narratives, and 3) research to operational capabilities (RtC, for short). These themes recognize the multiple and important roles the Drought Task Force can play to advance drought science and service capabilities. Specific roles include 1) stimulating progress on basic drought science issues, 2) addressing the ongoing North American drought and possible future droughts to facilitate discussions on causes and develop narrative explanations thereof, and 3) assessing recent progress in drought monitoring and prediction, with an eye towards advancing operational/service capabilities, building on the metrics and case studies framework developed during Year One. The planned “narrative” activities will occur twice a year and focus on the analysis of recent past droughts and provide a venue to discuss research results regarding manifestations and scientific explanations of the droughts. The “RtC” activities will also take place on a six-monthly basis and in contrast to the “narrative” activities will focus primarily on the three historical test-bed droughts selected by the WG-Case Studies and the application of the metrics agreed upon by the WG-Metrics to provide a benchmark against which to test new operational and service capabilities. The Drought Task Force “narrative” activities will result in Drought Reports describing and explaining, from a research perspective, recent past droughts. The findings from the RtC activities will be summarized in an RtC Report, a “living document” assessing progress in capabilities that will be regularly updated.

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