Escalating Flash Droughts Due to Climate Change

Escalating Flash Droughts Due to Climate Change


The rise in global temperatures and altered precipitation patterns caused by climate change are intensifying flash droughts worldwide.

  • These sudden and severe dry spells are becoming more frequent and intense across various regions, with mountainous Central Asia being a notable exception.

GS-03 GS-01 (Climate change and conservation)

Key Findings from the Study

  • Flash Drought Metrics: The study identified and monitored three essential measures of drought severity: onset speed, duration, and geographic extent.
  • Data Analysis: Utilizing 40 years of NASA’s MERRA-2 climate data (1980-2019), the study incorporated weather observations, satellite imagery, and modeled root-zone soil moisture.
  • Publication: Results were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Global Hotspots and Trends

  1. South America
  • Affected Regions: Southern Brazil and the Amazon.
  • Drivers: High temperatures, deforestation, and reduced rainfall.
  • Drought Dimensions: Increase in onset speed, duration, and geographic extent.
  1. Africa
  • Affected Areas: Congo, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, and Madagascar.
  • Key Factors: High temperatures are more significant than reduced precipitation.

Influence of Land Cover

  • Vulnerability: Savannas and grasslands in humid and semi-humid climates are particularly susceptible to flash droughts.

Exceptions to the Trend: Central Asia

  • Regions: High mountain areas including the Himalaya, Karakoram, Tianshan, and Hindu Kush.
  • Observations: The extent of flash droughts has decreased over the study period.
  • Reasons: Changes in precipitation patterns, melting snowpack, and a shift from snow to rain keep soils moist.
  • Consequences: Increased risk of flash floods rather than droughts.

Climate Change Impact

  • Heat and Precipitation: The warming climate alters temperature and precipitation patterns, exacerbating flash drought conditions.
  • Ecosystem Vulnerability: Different ecosystems have varying susceptibilities to flash droughts, influenced by land cover and climate type.

Agricultural and Economic Implications

  • Crop Failure: Flash droughts can lead to sudden crop failures, impacting food security.
  • Economic Stress: Agricultural regions face economic challenges due to the unpredictability of water availability.

Disaster Preparedness

  • Prediction Challenges: The rapid onset of flash droughts complicates prediction and preparedness efforts.
  • Resource Management: Effective water resource management is crucial for mitigating the impacts of flash droughts.


The study systematically quantifies the global incidence of flash droughts, highlighting hotspots and regions experiencing rapid increases. Understanding the drivers and impacts of these events is essential for developing strategies to manage and mitigate their effects on ecosystems, agriculture, and economies.