New Program Could Help Predict Severity Of Droughts

Posted at 5:50 PM, Jun 17, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – While the drought in California has been stealing a lot of the headlines, back in 2007, middle Tennessee faced a devastating drought all its own. But a new tool could make it easier to figure out how bad upcoming droughts will be, and it was developed by engineers with a mid-state connection.

Vanderbilt Engineering graduate students came up with a new so-called drought calculator that they said would give people more specific information about droughts in their area.

Those students described the current problem: When city officials decided on issuing water-use restrictions for things like watering lawns or washing cars, they're relying on drought and climate data based on huge geographic zones, often as large as a third of the state. Tennessee has four zones.

Those engineering students said drought conditions can vary widely within such large zones, so those students developed a new calculator that looks at climate data at a much more detailed level, dividing a state into dozens of small zones that give water managers more specific information on how to deal with droughts.

“That helps them make better decisions on what they need to do in terms of water restrictions or where some recovery efforts need to be focused,” said Leslie Duncan, one of the students on the project.

The Vanderbilt students looked at water, temperature and soil data among other things to create their new drought calculator.