The threat of droughts and their associated impacts on the landscape and human communities has long been recognized in the United States, especially in high risk areas such as the South Central region. There is ample literature on the effects of long-term climate change and short-term climate variability on the occurrence of droughts. However, it is unclear whether this information meets the needs of relevant stakeholders and actually contributes to reducing the vulnerability or increasing the resilience of communities to droughts. For example, are the methods used to characterize the severity of drought – known as drought indices – effective tools for predicting the actual damage felt by communities?
As droughts continue to increase in frequency and severity, the need to understand community vulnerability and resilience to drought is only growing. Focusing on New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, this study sought to answer several key questions. First, researchers examined whether existing drought indices are effective in predicting the occurrence of drought events and their actual damages. Second, researchers explored why some communities suffer less damage from drought and recover faster than others. Finally, researchers identified strategies for encouraging the adoption of water conservation behaviors among residents. Resulting products show that drought indices are overall useful tools for predicting drought damage and that a community’s resilience to drought is often tied to socioeconomic conditions.
This research was conducted in partnership with two Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. In addition to gaining the scientific knowledge of the linkages between drought indices, damages, and community resilience, this research (1) developed tools to measure drought resilience, (2) identified key indicators of resilience, (3) identified the gaps between drought indices and actual damages, and (4) identified the factors that influence residents’ decisions to adopt adaptive measures.