Drought Basics

Drought is a period of below-average precipitation in a given region, resulting in prolonged shortages in its water supply. This can include atmospheric, surface water, or groundwater. More specific definitions of drought are below:

Meteorological Drought

  • When dry weather patterns dominate an area.

Hydrologic Drought

  • When low water supply becomes evident in streams, reservoirs, and groundwater levels. Hydrologic drought indicators lag significantly behind meteorological drought indicators.

Agricultural Drought

  • When precipitation deficits, soil water deficits, reduced ground water, or reduced reservoir levels impact agricultural yields.

Although all drought results from precipitation deficiencies, hydrologists are more concerned with how drought plays out through the water cycle. (WMO Handbook of Indicators and Indices)

It is uncommon for drought to significantly impact Maine because of typical precipitation levels, the state’s ground water hydrology, and a relatively low statewide demand for water compared to available resources. However, this does not mean that Maine is immune to water shortages.

Maine experienced a drought for the first time in 14 years in the summer of 2016. A lack of snowfall during the winter of 2015-2016 and continued precipitation deficits during the year as well as higher-than-normal temperatures contributed to the drought conditions. As of December 2016, 426 dry wells had been reported across the state and farmers were experiencing problems with irrigation and livestock feed. The drought is expected to continue through the winter, but slowly improve.

A drought from 1999-2002 caused 17,000 private wells to run dry in the 9 months prior to April 2002, and farmers lost more than 32 million dollars in crop production between 2001 and 2002 (1999-2002 USGS report, “Drought Conditions in Maine, 1999-2002: A Historical Perspective” (Lombard, 2002)).

Both the impacts and significance of drought depends on local conditions and the perspective of the stakeholder.