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Persistent Drought Conditions Show US Wildfires Could Get Worse

15 September 2020


Deadly wildfires in California, Washington, and Oregon are causing untold destruction. The fact that 56% of the counties in the three states are experiencing drought conditions means the fires may get worse before being brought under control. 

 

Many parts of the West have been parched due to a heat wave, leaving the vegetation dry and flammable, as shown by Gro's Drought Index (click here for map). With fires still raging in California, and now spreading in parts of Oregon and Washington, forecasts call for continued dry conditions as the region still has four months of its wildfire season in front of it. 

 

The Gro Drought Index (GDI) is showing three counties in the Western states at extreme-to-exceptional drought levels. Another 21 counties are experiencing severe droughts, and 50 are in moderate drought. 

 

The GDI shows the location and intensity of drought globally on a daily basis. The index is based on a Gro machine-learning model that uses 46 environmental and climate signals. To ensure the accuracy of the GDI, we calibrated the model to the US Drought Monitor (USDM), the most recognized and widely used index, and then scaled the GDI globally. While the USDM is only US focused and requires a network of 425 experts for ground observations, the GDI is fully automated to update with near-real-time data and is available on a global basis. Having a single global measure of drought that is defined and measured on a daily basis is critical for efficiently pricing and managing risk. 

 

Other data in Gro also underscores the severity of the situation in the three Western US states. Potential evapotranspiration, a measure of moisture deficiency in vegetation, is showing how extremely dry the area has become this summer and indicates the potential for drought to continue. The higher the potential evapotranspiration number, the more water the vegetation needs. 

 

Although drought is caused by a persistent lack of precipitation, measuring precipitation levels alone, as most other drought monitors and models do, fails to accurately evaluate the severity and duration of drought. The GDI offers deeper insights by tracking a variety of other data sets. For example, evapotranspiration readings are especially valuable for signaling when a drought is coming, and land surface temperature can indicate its severity. 

 

Click on the display below to view maps of drought conditions for the US West Coast.

 
This insight was powered by the Gro platform, which enables better and faster decisions about factors affecting the entire global agricultural ecosystem. Gro organizes over 40,000 datasets from sources around the world into a unified ontology, which allows users to derive valuable insights such as this one. You can explore the data available on Gro with a free account, or please get in touch if you would like to learn more about a specific crop, region, or business issue.
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