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Drought 2012 Vs. Drought 1988


The moderate to severe drought conditions across the Ohio Valley have many remembering the last widespread and significant drought (1988), and wondering if we're just as bad off or even worse this time around in 2012. While conditions in some parts of the local area are approaching similar levels as the 1988 drought, overall the conditions aren't quite as extreme yet in most of the NWS Wilmington, Ohio forecast area. However, as one heads west/northwest/southwest into northwest Ohio and much of the state of Indiana into western Kentucky, severe drought conditions have developed and are expected to continue.

Temperature Comparison (May through early August)

Below are comparisons of the average temperature (departure from normal) across the Ohio Valley from May 1st through August 8th for both years. When comparing this important part of the warm season, when plant and crop development is most significant, we find that the early portions of 1988 were only slightly above normal in the Ohio Valley, in comparison to 2012, when warmth has been widespread and significantly above normal. Images courtesy of the Midwest Regional Climate Center.


Below is a comparison table of days where high temperatures reached/exceeded both 90 and 100 degrees for the respective years. For 1988, the number of days represents the entire calendar year. For 2012, the number of days represents the time period from January 1st through August 8th.

CVG

Days >90F

Days >100F

1988
46
7
2012
37
6

For Cincinnati, there are usually about 10 days of 90 degree heat from August through October, and less than a day of 100 degree heat during the same time (on average).

CMH

Days >90F

Days >100F

1988
43
6
2012
41
4

For Columbus, there are usually about 7 days of 90 degree heat from August through October, and less than a day of 100 degree heat during the same time (on average).

DAY

Days >90F

Days >100F

1988
46
7
2012
33
3

For Dayton, there are usually about 8 days of 90 degree heat from August through October, and less than a day of 100 degree heat during the same time (on average).

Precipitation (May through early August)

Below are comparisons of the precipitation (percent of normal) across the Ohio Valley from May 1st through August 8th for both years. Images courtesy of the Midwest Regional Climate Center.


Looking a little longer term, below is a comparison table of precipitation from January 1st through August 8th for both years at Cincinnati (CVG), Columbus (CMH), and Dayton (DAY). When looking at these numbers, parts of the area are running drier than during the drought of 1988.

Precipitation (January 1st through August 8th)

CVG

Jan 1st - August 8th Precipitation
1988
25.70"
2012
20.67"

CMH

Jan 1st - August 8th Precipitation
1988
22.78"
2012
21.14"

DAY

Jan 1st - Augst 8th Precipitation
1988
17.20"
2012
18.50"

A popular question in drought periods is "How much rain do we need to break out of this drought?" While it seems a good summer downpour is enough, that answer is far from the truth. The image below attempts to quantify how much rainfall is needed to bring the Palmer Drought Index (see below) back to near normal levels.

Palmer Drought Severity

Comparing the Palmer Drought Severity index through August of the respective years shows that in 1988 severe to extreme drought was covering much of Indiana and western Ohio. In 2012 (up through August 4th - most current image), drought was shown to be severe to extreme across northwest Ohio and especially in Indiana. It is pretty clear that the rapidly devloping severe to extreme drought in especially Indiana and possibly northwest Ohio is now very much on par with the Drought of 1988 in terms of severity, and may possibly surpass that drought. One thing to keep in mind, the Palmer Drought Severity index is a long-term drought index, it can be slow to indicate rapidly developing drought conditions (sometimes called "flash drought").

Soil Moisture

The graphic below shows soil moistures at various depths at the Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) site in Madison County, OH, west of Columbus. The pink (2 inch depth) and yellow (4 inch depth) are often closely watched given shallow rooted grasses and crops. Note how these values have fallen off tremendously in June and July as dryness has developed.


The lack of soil moisture has led to a significant deficiency in crop moisture as shown by crop moisture index image below. This is image was captured on July 14th, 2012, and shows the disastrous effects on crops that the current drought is having over the Nation's midsections.

- Seth Binau, Science and Operations Officer (seth.binau@noaa.gov)


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1901 South State Route 134
Wilmington, OH 45177
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Page last modified: July 8, 2012.
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