Land giving way to dust.
Those were the stark images out on the Eastern Plains several years ago, when drought gripped parts of Colorado. This wasn’t just any drought, though. It was a phenomenon which scientists call a "flash drought."
"This is the sort of drought, which doesn't have any large-scale condition," said Debasish PaiMazumder, an NCAR Associate Scientist.
Flash droughts, much like flash floods, are sudden. It happens when dry conditions seemingly coming on without warning. However, a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder found that there may be a way to better predict this kind of drought.
"In terms of when you look at drought forecast, you also should look towards the ground, in addition to the sky," PaiMazumder said.
What comes from the sky? Snow -- in particular, snowpack. It's the added ingredient to an equation that could help predict flash droughts months in advance.
"Because in 2012, we had such a lack of snowpack, which influenced our soil moisture," PaiMazumder said.
Scientists at NCAR found that by looking at the usual drought measurement – soil moisture -- and then also analyzing snowpack, they could increase their prediction of a flash drought from one month in advance to four months. That could help water managers in a dry state like Colorado know how much water they have to work with. It’s a lead time could make a big difference in predicting future flash droughts.
The National Science Foundation funded the study, which was just published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Atmospheres.