What is a drought?
A drought is a period of abnormally dry weather which persists long enough to produce a serious hydrologic imbalance (for example crop damage, water supply shortage, etc.) The severity of the drought depends upon the degree of moisture deficiency, the duration and the size of the affected area.
There are four different ways that drought can be defined:
Meteorological - a measure of departure of precipitation from normal. Due to climatic differences what is considered a drought in one location may not be a drought in another location.
Agricultural - refers to a situation when the amount of moisture in the soil no longer meets the needs of a particular crop.
Hydrological - occurs when surface and subsurface water supplies are below normal.
Socioeconomic - refers to the situation that occurs when physical water shortage begins to affect people.
Lack of rainfall for an extended period of time can bring farmers and major metropolitan areas to their knees. It does not take very long; a few rain-free weeks spreads panic and shrivels crops. We are told to stop washing our cars, cease watering the grass and take other water conservation steps. Continued sunshine without sufficient rain can turn a rain forest into a desert; so maybe sunny weather is not always the best weather.
The Dust Bowl days of the 1930's affected 50,000,000 acres of land, rendering the farmers helpless. In the 1950's, the Great Plains suffered a severe water shortage when several years went by with rainfall well below normal. Crop yields failed, the water supply fell. California suffered a severe drought some years ago. Rainfall was below normal for 1 1/2 years, and by the time September, 1970, rolled around, the fire potential was extremely high and dangerous. Temperatures rose to near the century mark and fires began. Losses were in the tens of millions of dollars.
The worst drought in 50 years affected at least 35 states during the long hot summer of 1988. In some areas the lack of rainfall dated back to 1984. In 1988, rainfall totals over the mid-west, Northern Plains and the Rockies were 50% to 85% below normal. Crops and livestock died and some areas became a desert. Forest fires began over the Northwest and by autumn, 4,100,000 acres had been destroyed. A government policy called "Let Burn" was in-fact for Yellowstone National Park. The result? Half of the Park--2,100,000 acres were charred. On September 11th, three inches of snow fell over Yellowstone, helping to extinguish the fire. During the great drought of 1988, Governor Guy Hunt of Alabama led a statewide prayer for rain. It came the very next day, and the thunderstorms continued for weeks (taken from Newport, NC Homepage).
Courtesy of NOAA