Floods and Droughts - 12 of 11

Floods and Droughts FAQs - 11 Found

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Why doesn't a drought go away when it rains?

Rainfall in any form will provide some drought relief. A good analogy might be how medicine and illness relate to each other. A single dose of medicine can alleviate symptoms of illness, but it usually takes a sustained program of medication to cure an illness. Likewise, a single rainstorm will not break the drought, but it may provide temporary relief.

A light to moderate shower will probably only provide cosmetic relief. It might make folks feel better for awhile, provide cooling, and make the vegetation perk up. During the growing season, most of the rain that falls will be quickly evaporated or used by plants. Its impact is short term.

A thunderstorm will provide some of the same benefits as the shower, but it also may cause loss of life and property if it is severe. Thunderstorms often produce large amounts of precipitation in a very short time, and most of the rain will run off into drainage channels and streams rather than soak into the ground. If the rain happens to fall upstream of a reservoir, much of the runoff will be captured by the reservoir and add to the available water supply. No matter where the rain falls, stream levels will rise quickly and flooding may result. Also, because the rainfall and runoff can be intense, the resulting runoff can carry significant loads of sediment and pollutants that are washed from the land surface.

Soaking rains are the best medicine to alleviate drought. Water that enters the soil recharges ground water, which in turn sustains vegetation and feeds streams during periods when it is not raining. A single soaking rain will provide lasting relief from drought conditions, but multiple such rains over several months may be required to break a drought and return conditions to within the normal range.

Tropical storm rains are usually of the soaking variety, although they may also be intense such as during a thunderstorm and lead to some of the same problems. Tropical storms often produce more total rainfall than a "regular" soaking rain and can provide longer relief than a single soaking rain. However, tropical rains may also be of such intensity that they exceed the capacity of soil to absorb water and often result in significant runoff and flooding. Tropical rains can help to fill water-supply reservoirs and provide long-term drought insurance. If significant rainfall does not occur upstream of reservoirs, the drought relief aspects of tropical storms may be of only little consequence. All things considered, a single tropical storm at the right place, at the right time, and with the right amount of rainfall can break a drought.

Considering all of the above, even when a drought has been broken it may not be truly over. The benefits of substantial rainfall such as from a tropical storm may last for months, but a return to normal rainfall patterns and amounts is necessary for conditions in streams, reservoirs, and ground water to also return to normal.

Tags: Ecosystems, Droughts, Water, Ecology, Streams, Precipitation