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79.6.1. Development of Drought Indices

Drought indices facilitate the quantification of the water supply and demand
series of relevance to a particular case or region under study, given the available
information, because they summarize in a single value the influence of several
variables representative of the status of a particular system (Hayes, 2006). In
addition, they provide a general overview in drought analysis and communication
to the general public as they allow overcoming some difficulties associated with
the statistical analysis of hydrometeorological information (Zargar et al., 2011).
On the other hand, Paulo and Pereria (2006) point out that the characterization of
droughts using indices is controversial and often contradictory, as it depends on
the selected indices, the perception of what a drought is and the objectives of the
characterization. Thus, there is no unanimity regarding the most appropriate
index for drought characterization. For these reasons, a large number of indices
have been proposed, which are oriented both for general studies and also for
special situations depending on the type of drought, the available information,
the time scale of the study, among other factors (Mishra and Sing, 2010).
Niemeyer (2008) discusses more than 150 drought indices, while Zargar et al.
(2011) describes 74 of them. Furthermore, new indices are constantly been
proposed based upon recent technological advances (e.g., Karamouz et al., 2009;
Rhee et al., 2010; Vicente-Serrano et al., 2010; Cai et al., 2011). From an
operational standpoint Zargar et al. (2011) mention that the use of drought
indices, together with the theory of runs, facilitates the communication of drought
conditions to interested entities, stakeholders, and the general public. In
particular, real-time monitoring, early detection of drought, the identification of
its beginning and end, and determination of its severity becomes simpler and
clearer when using these indices. Thus, water managers and decision makers can
act in a more proactive manner and adopt better mitigation measures. Indeed,
Tsakaris et al. (2007) highlight that drought characterization using indices must
be associated with a clear definition of drought that is relevant and of interest to
a region in particular, and should allow linking the quantifiable impacts of drought
with the corresponding value of the index.

79.6.2. Basic Notions to Apply Drought Indices

A drought index generally permits measuring the deviation with respect to normal
conditions, or normal demand, of a variable representing the historical water
supply (Dai, 2011). Therefore, an essential aspect when representing demand is
the threshold which defines the severity of the droughts. This should be related
with the proportion of nonsatisfied demand or with the damages it can provoke.
The stochastic analysis of the behavior of the time series delivers information
regarding the probability of occurrence of a drought and the corresponding risk,
which makes the statistical behavior of the index important as well as the
selection of the thresholds so as to identify the beginning and end of a drought
(Tsakiris et al., 2007).

The most commonly used time scale in drought indices is the annual, which
allows determining a general behavior at a regional level. However, this scale is
not very appropriate for monitoring drought and decision making, and thus a
monthly temporal scale is more convenient, particularly to identify in a more
precise manner the beginning and end of droughts. Nonetheless, for time scales
finer than the annual, the series becomes nonstationary and phenomena that are
proper of the hydrological cycle are noticeable, such as periodicity, intermittence,
asymmetry, significant dependence, etc. (Panu and Sharma, 2002; Mishra and
Singh, 2010).

The majority of the indices consider precipitation as the best indicator of the
water supply to the system, while the demand is represented by a threshold
value of this same variable. Alternatively, this demand can be defined in terms of
atmospheric variables generally related to temperature, or evaportranspiration.
Some indices even consider a comprehensive water budget for the system. In
some highly complex systems, this budget-relating supply and demand can be
very difficult to define, as a large number of very system-specific variables are
needed (Suarez et al., 2014). Moreover, most of the indices and their threshold
values are defined according to historic climate conditions, and thus it is
necessary to revise them when considering future conditions, which may be
affected by climate change or other anthropogenic changes (Dai, 2011).

79.6.3. Classifications of Indices

The variables to be used in the indices depend on the type of drought or its
impacts as well as the objectives pursued by the characterization. For instance,
precipitation is the most common variable used to characterize meteorological
droughts through indices, allowing the focus mainly on early drought
manifestations. Some of the indices using only precipitation are the Rainfall
Anomaly Index (Van-Rooy, 1965), the Bhalme and Mooly Drought Index (Bhalme
and Mooley, 1980), the Drought Severity Index (Bryant et al., 1992), the National
Rainfall Index (Gommes and Petrassi, 1994), the Effective Drought Index (Byun
and Wilhite, 1999), and the Drought Frequency Index (Gonzlez and Valds,
2006). One the most utilized precipitation-based index is the Standardized
Precipitation Index, SPI (McKee et al., 1993; NDMC, 2015), which can be applied
at various temporal scales and is used in drought monitoring. To include the
effects of the demand, or the impact of meteorological drought, other variables
have been included in these indices. For example, temperature or
evapotranspiration are incorporated in the Reconnaissance Drought Index, RDI
(Tsakaris and Vangelis, 2005) and the Standard Precipitation Evapotranspiration
Index, SPEI (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2010).

For hydrological drought, indices also incorporate streamflows, and water levels
in reservoirs and lakes, among others. The well-knonw Palmer Hydrological
Drought Index, PHDI (Palmer, 1965) considers precipitation, evapotranspiration,
runoff, recharge, and soil moisture. To incorporate the effects of snow, Shafer and
Dezman (1982) developed the Surface Water Supply Index, SWSI. Weghorst
(1996) proposes the Reclamation Drought Index, which is similar to SWSI, but
incorporates temperature so as to consider the water demands. Stahl (2001)
adopts the Regional Streamflow Deficiency Index, RSDI, which uses low-flows at
various flow gauges in a homogenous region.

The agricultural sector is evidently one of the most affected by the water
shortage, and thus a number of indices have been developed to characterize
agricultural droughts. These indices attempt to quantify the water available for
the plant by combining precipitation, temperature, and humidity. Among these
indices is the Relative Soil Moisture (Thornthwaite and Mather, 1955), the Crop
Moisture Index (Palmer, 1968), which is similar to the Palmer Drought Severity
Index, PDSI (Palmer, 1965), but it only considers the top layer of the soil (Byun
and Wilhite, 1999; Narasimhan and Srinivasan, 2005), and the Crop Specific
Drought Index (Meyer et al., 1993), originally developed for corn and soybeans
(Meyer and Hubbard, 1995).

79.6.4. Summary of Drought Indices

The indices previously described correspond to a small sample of a large variety

of indices proposed in the literature. Typically, new indices are developed based
on available information, regional characteristics, and the effects and impacts of
droughts which are under study. On the other hand, several studies describe and
compare a variety of these indices (e.g., Keyantash and Dracup, 2002; Hayes,
2006; Dai, 2011; Zargar et al., 2011; Mishra and Singh, 2010). Table 79.1
presents some of the existing drought indices along with their main properties
(i.e., type of drought characterized by the index, input information, and temporal
and spatial scales involved, strengths, and drawbacks).

Table 79.1. Drought Indices Commonly Used for Planning, Managing, and
Monitoring Water Resources

Indices Properties Strengths Drawbacks

Percent of normal Type: Very simple and Not applicable for

(Heim, 2002) Meteorological easy to understand non-normal
Data needed: and communicate. variables. Cannot
Precipitation be used for
Temporal scale: comparisons
Month to year across seasons and
Spatial scale: Point regions.

Rainfall deciles Type: It delivers It does not

(Mpelasoka et al., Meteorological information about consider other
2008) Data needed: risks. It can be variables. Requires
Precipitation applied regionally. long records for
Temporal scale: thresholds
Month to year definition.
Spatial scale: Point
to regional

SPI, Standardized Type: Used for different It requires long-

Precipitation Index Meteorological time scales and term records. No
(McKee et al., Data needed: Long related to consideration of
(McKee et al., Data needed: Long related to consideration of
Indices Properties Strengths Drawbacks
1993) records of probability. evapotranspiration.
Temporal scale:
Month to year
Spatial scale: Point
to regional

SPEI, Standardized Type: Sensitive to long- Calculation of PET

Precipitation Meteorological term trends in can be
Evapotranspiration Data needed: temperature complicated.
Index (Vicente- Precipitation, change. It
Serrano et al., temperature, and considers water
2010) evapotranspiration balance and
Temporal scale: evapotranspiration.
Multiple, weekly,
or monthly Spatial
scale: Regional

PDSI, Palmer Type: Agricultural More Calibrated for U.S.

Drought Severity Data needed: comprehensive Great Plains'
Index (Palmer, Precipitation, than indices based conditions. Limited
1965) temperature, and only on applicability in
water supply precipitation. PET locations with
Temporal scale: and soil moisture climatic extremes,
Month to year are also mountainous
Spatial scale: considered. terrain, or snow-
Agricultural packs unless
regions calibrated.

CMI, Crop Moisture Type: Agricultural It is very suitable It applicability for

Index (Palmer, Data needed: for the prediction the prediction of
1968) Precipitation, of short-term long-term droughts
temperature droughts. is very low. CMI
Temporal scale: can only be used in
Weekly Spatial the growing
scale: Regional season; it is not
suitable for winter
Remote data-collection systems have incorporated new sensors and algorithms,
which allows improving the quality of the information used in drought
characterization. In particular, the spatial resolution at which vegetation, soil
moisture, and other Earth's surface properties are measured have enhanced
(Niemayer, 2008; Choi et al., 2013). Drought indices based upon remote data are
diverse, and new indices are frequently being proposed. While the Normalized
Difference Vegetation Index, NDVI has remained as the one most utilized, other
such as the Vegetation Condition Index (Kogan, 1990), the Temperature Condition
Index, and the Vegetation Health Index, VHI (Kogan, 1995) are used operationally
(NOAA, 2011; NDMC, 2015). Another index based on remote data is the
Normalized Difference Water Index (Gao, 1996), which is complimentary to the
NDVI and includes estimation of water content based on physical principles.
Typical measurements used by indices based on remote perception include near-
and short-wave infrared bands (NIR and SWIR, respectively), as well as the Land
Surface Temperature (LST) (Lambin and Ehrlich, 1995; Prihodko and Goward,
1997; Wang et al., 2001; Wan et al., 2004; Rhee et al., 2010; Cai et al., 2011).
Moreover, thermal infrared (TIR) can be used to obtain an effective estimate of
water stress in many vegetation ecosystems (Moran, 2003). For example, the VHI
uses TIR to monitor the increase in the temperature of the vegetation cover when
plants are subject to water stress (Kogan, 1997; Choi et al., 2013). Table 79.2
summarizes some drought indices that are based on data from satellite source
and their main characteristics.

Table 79.2. Characteristics of Indices Based on Remote Data Collection

Indices Properties Strengths Drawbacks

NDVI, Normalized Type: Ecological Simple to Cloud, seasonal

Difference and agricultural calculate. smoke, aerosols,
Vegetation Index Data needed: etc. can
(Ji and Peters, Multiband contaminate the
2003) satellite images pixels. In wet
Temporal scale: conditions, the
Image dependent reflectance may
Spatial scale: not be equal in
Image dependent the two bands.

TCI, Temperature Type: Ecological Simple to It only depends

Condition Index and agricultural calculate. on the
(Kogan, 1995) Data needed: temperature of
Brightness and the air and does
Brightness and the air and does
Indices Properties
temperature Strengths notDrawbacks
Temporal scale: other variables.
Weekly, monthly
Spatial scale:
Image dependent

VCI, Vegetation Type: Ecological Simple to Atmospheric

Condition Index and agricultural calculate. It takes interference, soil
(Kogan, 1990) Data needed: into account the condition effects
NDVI vegetation (wet), anisotropy.
Temporal scale: conditions of the
Weekly, monthly entire series
Spatial scale: studied.
Point to regional

VHI, Vegetation Type: Ecological Simple to It depends on the

Health Index and agricultural calculate. It takes atmospheric
(Kogan, 1995) Data needed: TCI into account the conditions.
and VCI vegetation
Temporal scale: conditions of the
Weekly, monthly entire series
scale (image studied and the
dependent) temperature
Spatial scale: applying a factor
Point to regional to each one of
these factors.

NDWI, Type: Ecological Calculates the It depends on the

Normalized and agricultural water content in atmospheric
Difference Water Data needed: the vegetation, conditions.
Index (Gao, NIR, SWIR which
1996) Temporal scale: complements
Weekly, monthly NDVI.
Spatial scale:
point to regional
During the current century, a generation of indices, known as combined indices,
hybrid, or aggregate indices, have appeared. These indices attempt to
incorporate and use as much as possible available information of all types (Zargar
et al., 2011). These indices typically combine traditional meteorological
information and remote sensing data that characterize the earth surface. A good
example of this is the Vegetation Drought Response Index (Brown et al., 2008),
which combines NDVI with indices obtained from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer,
or the Percent Average Seasonal Greenness, and the Start Season Anomaly,
which are based on other classical drought indices such as the SPI or the PDSI,
calculated from meteorological records (Niemeyer, 2008; Zargar et el., 2011).
Other combined indices include the RSDI (Stahl, 2001), the Aggregate Drought
Index (Keyantash and Dracup, 2004), the Soil Moisture Deficit Index and the
Evapotranspiration Deficit Index (Narasimhan and Srinivasan, 2005), the RDI
(Tsakiris and Vangelis, 2005), the SPEI (Vicente-Serrano et al., 2010), the Modified
Perpendicular Drought Index (Ghulam et al., 2007), the Normalized Multi-Band
Drought Index (Wang and Qu, 2007), and the Hybrid Drought Index (Karamouz et
al., 2009). Table 79.3 summarizes the main characteristics of some of these

Table 79.3. Characteristics of New, Combined or Aggregate Drought Indices

Indices Properties Strengths Drawbacks

SWSI, Surface Type: Hydrological Simple It does not

Water Supply Data needed: calculation. It represent
Index (Shafer and Precipitation, includes water extreme events
Dezman, 1982) temperature, management. It well. Interbasin
stream flow, snow considers comparisons
pack, remote snowpack and are not possible
sensing water storage. or drought
Temporal scale: analysis on a
Monthly global scale.
Spatial scale: River

RDI, Reclamation Type: Hydrological Created for the RDI behaves

Drought Index Data needed: operational more slowly
(Weghorst, 1996) Precipitation, detection of even compared
temperature, drought events to the PHDI.
stream flow, snow and for the
stream flow, snow and for the
Indices Properties
pack, remote Strengths
triggering of Drawbacks
sensing relief.
Temporal scale:
Spatial scale: River

VegDRI, Type: Hydrological Provides near- It is necessary

Vegetation Data needed: real-time maps to combine
Drought Response NDVI, SPI, and PDSI of drought NDVI, SPI and
Index (Brown et Temporal scale: severity and PDSI.
al., 2008) Monthly to annual spatial extent.
Spatial scale:
Depends on the
satellite imagery

RSDI, Regional Type: Hydrological The RDI series Several

Streamflow Data needed: include the homogenous
Deficiency Index Streamflow, spatial basins affected
(Sthal, 2001) remote sensing dimension in the by hydrological
(gridded circulation definition of droughts are
patterns and severe dry necessary.
circulation indices) periods.
Temporal scale: Relations and
Daily comparisons
Spatial scale: between regions
Region (cluster in are possible.

ADI, Aggregate Type: Hydrological Considers all Much data are

Drought Index Data needed: physical forms required for it
(Keyantash and Precipitation, of drought. calculation.
Dracup, 2004) streamflow, Principal
reservoir storage, component
evapotranspiration, analysis is used
soil moisture, and to extract
snow water dominant
content hydrologic
Temporal scale: signals. Direct
Monthly mathematical
Monthly mathematical
Indices Spatial
scale: formulation.
Strengths Drawbacks

SMDI, Soil Type: Hydrological SMDI and ETDI It is difficult to

Moisture Deficit Data needed: Soil use a high- calculate the
Index, and ETDI, moisture, resolution historical soil
Evapotranspiration (originally comprehensive moisture. NDVI
Deficit Index simulated using hydrologic or hydrological
(Narasimhan and SWAT model)/ET model that models can be
Srinivasan, 2005) Temporal scale: incorporates a used, but a
Weekly crop growth great deal of
Spatial scale: High model. ETDI and data and
spatial resolution SMDI could be calculated
good indicators variables are
of short-term required. The
agricultural data supplied
droughts. by the satellite
imagery can be
affected by
clouds and

Vijay P. Singh, Ph.D., D.Sc., D. Eng. (Hon.), Ph.D. (Hon.), D. Sc. (Hon.), P.E., P.H.,
Hon. D. WRE, Academician (GFA): Handbook of Applied Hydrology, Second
Professional, 2017), AccessEngineering

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