Why doesn't a drought end 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 might provide temporary relief.

A light to moderate shower will probably only provide cosmetic relief; its impact is short term. Thunderstorms often produce large amounts of precipitation in a very short time, so most of the rain will run off into drainage channels and streams rather than soak into the ground.

Soaking rains are the best medicine to alleviate drought. Water that enters the soil recharges groundwater, which in turn sustains vegetation and feeds streams during periods of no rain. A single soaking rain will provide lasting relief from drought conditions, but multiple such rains over several months might be required to break a drought and return conditions to within the normal range.

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What are the long-term effects of climate change?

Scientists have predicted that long-term effects of climate change will include a decrease in sea ice and an increase in permafrost thawing, an increase in heat waves and heavy precipitation, and decreased water resources in semi-arid regions. Below are some of the regional impacts of global change forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on...

How can climate change affect natural disasters?

With increasing global surface temperatures the possibility of more droughts and increased intensity of storms will likely occur. As more water vapor is evaporated into the atmosphere it becomes fuel for more powerful storms to develop. More heat in the atmosphere and warmer ocean surface temperatures can lead to increased wind speeds in tropical...

What is the difference between global warming and climate change?

Although people tend to use these terms interchangeably, global warming is just one aspect of climate change. “Global warming” refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “Climate change” refers to the increasing changes in the measures of climate over a long period...

What are some of the signs of climate change?

• Temperatures are rising world-wide due to greenhouse gases trapping more heat in the atmosphere. • Droughts are becoming longer and more extreme around the world. • Tropical storms becoming more severe due to warmer ocean water temperatures. • As temperatures rise there is less snowpack in mountain ranges and polar areas and the snow melts...

Where in the Nation are droughts or very low flows occurring now? How can I see these sites on a map and get to the data?

To view the USGS streamflow information on drought, see the drought map on our WaterWatch site, which shows below-normal, 7-day average streamflow compared to historical streamflow for the United States. Links to additional maps and drought data are listed on our Drought website and the U.S. Drought Portal .

When does a drought begin and end?

The beginning of a drought is difficult to determine. Several weeks, months, or even years might pass before people know that a drought is occurring. The end of a drought can occur as gradually as it began. The first evidence of drought is usually seen in records of rainfall. Within a short period of time, the amount of moisture in soils can begin...

What causes drought?

A drought is a period of drier-than-normal conditions that results in water-related problems. The amount of precipitation at a particular location varies from year to year, but over a period of years, the average amount is fairly constant. In the deserts of the Southwest, the average precipitation is less than 3 inches per year. In contrast, the...
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Long-term drought can seriously affect water availability

Drought in Folsom Lake, California
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The severity of California's current (2016) drought is illustrated in these images of Folsom Lake, a reservoir in Northern California located 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Sacramento. The lake is formed by Folsom Dam, in the foreground, which is part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

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USGS Documents 2015 Western U.S. Drought

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Stillwater Creek in drought conditions

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