Assessing the evolution of soil moisture and vegetation conditions during the 2012 United States flash drought

Jason A. Otkin, Martha C. Anderson, Christopher Hain, Mark Svoboda, David Johnson, Richard Mueller, Tsegaye Tadesse, Brian Wardlow, Jesslyn Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


This study examines the evolution of several model-based and satellite-derived drought metrics sensitive to soil moisture and vegetation conditions during the extreme flash drought event that impacted major agricultural areas across the central U.S. during 2012. Standardized anomalies from the remote sensing based Evaporative Stress Index (ESI) and Vegetation Drought Response Index (VegDRI) and soil moisture anomalies from the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS) are compared to the United States Drought Monitor (USDM), surface meteorological conditions, and crop and soil moisture data compiled by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).Overall, the results show that rapid decreases in the ESI and NLDAS anomalies often preceded drought intensification in the USDM by up to 6. wk depending on the region. Decreases in the ESI tended to occur up to several weeks before deteriorations were observed in the crop condition datasets. The NLDAS soil moisture anomalies were similar to those depicted in the NASS soil moisture datasets; however, some differences were noted in how each model responded to the changing drought conditions. The VegDRI anomalies tracked the evolution of the USDM drought depiction in regions with slow drought development, but lagged the USDM and other drought indicators when conditions were changing rapidly. Comparison to the crop condition datasets revealed that soybean conditions were most similar to ESI anomalies computed over short time periods (2-4. wk), whereas corn conditions were more closely related to longer-range (8-12. wk) ESI anomalies. Crop yield departures were consistent with the drought severity depicted by the ESI and to a lesser extent by the NLDAS and VegDRI datasets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-242
Number of pages13
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - Mar 15 2016


  • Agriculture
  • Crop impacts
  • Drought monitoring
  • Evapotranspiration
  • Flash drought
  • Satellite data
  • Soil moisture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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