Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
Research article
30 Jun 2015
Research article |  | 30 Jun 2015

Exploring the link between drought indicators and impacts

S. Bachmair, I. Kohn, and K. Stahl

Abstract. Current drought monitoring and early warning systems use different indicators for monitoring drought conditions and apply different indicator thresholds and rules for assigning drought intensity classes or issue warnings or alerts. Nevertheless, there is little knowledge on the meaning of different hydro-meteorologic indicators for impact occurrence on the ground. To date, there have been very few attempts to systematically characterize the indicator–impact relationship owing to sparse and patchy data on drought impacts. The newly established European Drought Impact report Inventory (EDII) offers the possibility to investigate this linkage. The aim of this study was to explore the link between hydro-meteorologic indicators and drought impacts for the case study area Germany and thus to test the potential of qualitative impact data for evaluating the performance of drought indicators. As drought indicators two climatological drought indices – the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) and the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) – as well as streamflow and groundwater level percentiles were selected. Linkage was assessed though data visualization, extraction of indicator values concurrent with impact onset, and correlation analysis between monthly time series of indicator and impact data at the federal state level, and between spatial patterns for selected drought events. The analysis clearly revealed a significant moderate to strong correlation for some states and drought events allowing for an intercomparison of the performance of different drought indicators. Important findings were strongest correlation for intermediate accumulation periods of SPI and SPEI, a slightly better performance of SPEI versus SPI, and a similar performance of streamflow percentiles to SPI in many cases. Apart from these commonalities, the analysis also exposed differences among federal states and drought events, suggesting that the linkage is time variant and region specific to some degree. Concerning "thresholds" for drought impact onset, i.e. indicator values concurrent with past impact onsets, we found that no single "best" threshold value can be identified but impacts occur within a range of indicator values. Nevertheless, the median of the threshold distributions showed differences between northern/northeastern versus southern/southwestern federal states, and among drought events. While the findings strongly depend on data and may change with a growing number of EDII entries in the future, this study clearly demonstrates the feasibility of evaluating hydro-meteorologic variables with text-based impact reports and highlights the value of impact reporting as a tool for monitoring drought conditions.

Short summary
There is little knowledge on the meaning of different hydro-meteorologic drought indicators for drought impact occurrence on the ground. This study investigates the link between commonly used drought indicators and text-based information on drought impacts through data visualization, extraction of indicator values concurrent with impact onset, and correlation analysis for the case study area Germany. The results demonstrate the feasibility of evaluating drought indicators with impacts.
Final-revised paper