Methods for Surviving Drought Disasters.

Not all droughts become disasters. They vary greatly in intensity, duration, and level of impact.

The discussion and information on this site pertains to surviving drought disasters that are classified as severe droughts.

Most droughts today are not nearly as difficult to deal with in the U.S. as they were back in the 1930's during the Great Dust Bowl days. This is due to the U.S. infrastructure and the division of labor produced by the free enterprise economic system which can help mediate them. In fact, there are droughts going on in areas all over the U.S. today with some lasting many years but they are of a much more milder form. These drought areas do suffer shortages and losses but much of these impacts are minimized by inbound support from non-impacted areas.

However, for visitors viewing this site from other countries may experience droughts of long and intense duration without much support from areas within and without their country. In these areas of the world, the meaning of surviving drought disasters has real implications. Parts of Africa and Australia have suffered enormous droughts resulting in great loss of wildlife, farm animals, and human life. These viewers have the most to gain from this section. This is not to say that at some point in time, areas within the U.S. couldn't become subject to some type of severe drought and suffer the same fate as others in the world.

In the U.S., the issue of drought impact has more to do with the resulting, downstream disasters that are the indirect result of milder droughts. For example, forests and grasslands become very dry triggering large, devastating fires which destroy habitat for forest animals and residential areas, farms, and ranches. Additionally, grazing areas for domestic animals, farm crops and other associated industries are affected which will ultimately go to the bottom line of the country's GDP. Then subsequent rain and snow will cause erosion, floods, and mudslides, compounding the total impact of a drought.

What Type of Weather Conditions Creates a Drought?

Droughts are caused by a depletion of precipitation over time. Unlike a dry spell, prolonged lack of rain will cause regions around the world to slowly dry out. The soil, lakes, and rivers become depleted of water. Because of the slow onset of droughts, their cost is often only estimated. Frequently, droughts are billion dollar weather events and are one of the top three threats to population in the world along with famine and flooding which can be indirect results from a drought themselves as mentioned above.

Defining a drought is difficult because of the word normal. In many areas, normal conditions generally mean conditions that do not deviate from long-term averages. However, these averages themselves can change over time.

Types of Droughts

While droughts can be defined in many ways, three main drought types are commonly discussed.

Hydrological Drought
Many watersheds experience depleted amounts of available water. Lack of water in river systems and reservoirs can impact hydroelectric power companies, farmers, wildlife, and communities.

Below is a picture of river in South Carolina suffering from drought conditions as it is nearly dry from the lack of upstream water sources.

Meteorological Drought
A lack of precipitation is the most common definition of drought and is usually the type of drought referred to in news reports and the media. Most locations around the world have their own meteorological definition of drought based on the climate “normals” in the area. A normally rainy area that gets less rain than usual can be considered in a drought.

The following picture of a lake in Austin, Texas that has lost a great volume of water due to the lack of rain.

Agricultural Drought
When soil moisture becomes a problem, the agricultural industry is in trouble with drought. Shortages in precipitation, changes in evapo-transpiration,and reduced ground water levels can create stress and problems for crops.

Probably, one of the worst effects of a draught in the U.S. occurred in the middle southwest area of the country during the 1930's. The farm and ranch land located in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas lost much of their topsoil through black blizzards. With over grazing and poor farming methods coupled with an intense national drought in the region, the westward winds picked up tons and tons of soil and deposited it the Atlantic Ocean and all parts along the way. The picture above illustrated how bad it got during this terrible American agricultural drought which was coupled with the Great Depression.

Feasibility of Drought Occurrence for Your Location

Sometimes a drought takes decades to develop fully and predicting droughts is difficult. It typical is a backward looking analysis and recognition achieved by comparing to long term detail data for an area. The frequency of droughts in the United States is literally every year. In other words, somewhere in the US in any given year, a drought is occurring. For example in central Arizona the area is going through a very longterm drought spanning nearly two decades.

Droughts are completely natural, but their devastation can be far-reaching and severe. Atmospheric conditions such as climate change, ocean temperatures, changes in the jet stream, and changes in the local landscape are all culprits in the long story of the causes of droughts.

What Typically Happens When a Drought Occurs?

While droughts do not often cause deaths in the United States, the Dust Bowl in the US Midwest is one example of the devastation that can occur. There is a long list of significant droughts globally over time.

There are three main ways droughts impact lives and communities. First, the economic impacts of drought include losses in the timber, agricultural, and fisheries communities. Many of these losses are then passed on to consumers in the form of higher commodity pricing.

Next social impacts include increased chance of conflict over commodities, fertile land, and water resources. Other social impacts include abandonment of cultural traditions, loss of homelands, changes in lifestyle, and increased chance of health risks due to poverty and hygiene issues.

Finally, the environmental impacts of drought include loss in species biodiversity, migration changes, reduced air quality, and increased soil erosion.

Other parts of the world experience long periods without rains as well. Even during monsoon season, areas that depend on the seasonal rains will often experience drought if the monsoon rains fail. Once crops fail, famine can become a major problem. In some African countries, rain rituals are often used to try and thwart the dry seasons and bring on the rain. While it is no cure, modern technology has developed ways to help see potential famine situations as satellites see famine conditions from space.

Agricultural Drought Result

Planning and Preparation to Survive Drought Disasters

Consequences of Drought: Short and Long Term

One of the best known cases of surviving draught disasters successfully is historically provided in the Bible nearly 4,000 years ago in Egypt where food was saved for 7 years and the drought lasted for 7 years.

Regardless of a drought's stage, there are short and long term consequences with any drought because of nature and society's dependence on water. Problems associated with drought can have economic, environmental, and social impacts on both the areas where they occur and areas that have relations with those where the drought happens.

Most of the economic impacts of drought are associated with agriculture and the income generated from crops. In times of drought, the lack of water can often cause a decline in crop yields, and thus a reduction in income for farmers and an increase in the market price of products since there is less to go around. In a prolonged drought, unemployment of farmers and even retailers can occur, having a significant impact on the economy of the area and those with economic ties to it.

In terms of environmental problems, drought can result in insect infestations and plant diseases, increased erosion, habitat and landscape degradation, a decrease in air quality and that of what water is present, as well as an increased risk of fire because of drier vegetation.

In short-term droughts, natural environments can often rebound, but when there are long term droughts, plant and animal species can suffer tremendously, and over time desertification can happen with an extreme lack of moisture.

Finally, droughts have social impacts that can cause disputes between users of available water, inequalities in water distribution between wealthy and poor, disparities in areas in need of disaster relief, and a decline in health.

In addition, in rural developing countries population migration can begin when one area experiences drought because often people will go to areas where water and its benefits are more prevalent. This then depletes the natural resources of the new area, can create conflicts among neighboring populations, and takes workers away from the original area. Over time, increased poverty and social unrest is likely to develop.

Actions to Take to Survive Drought Disasters

Because a severe drought is often slow in its development, it is relatively easy to tell when one is coming and in areas that are capable, there are several mitigation measures that can be used to reduce the impacts felt by drought.

The most important steps in lessening the effects of drought are though soil and water conservation. By protecting soil, it is better able to absorb precipitation, but it can also help farmers to use less water because it is absorbed and not as much runs off. It also creates less water pollution by the pesticides and fertilizers present in most farm runoff.

In water conservation, public use is often regulated. This mostly includes watering yards, washing cars and outdoor fixtures such as patio tables, and swimming pools. Cities such as Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada have also implemented the use of xeriscape landscaping to reduce the need to water outdoor plants in dry environments. In addition, water conservation devices can be required for use around the home like:

  • Low-flow toilets,
  • Shower heads,
  • Washing machines,
  • Enforced external watering periods,
  • Anti-siphon valves on external locations

Finally, away from the home but in and around the community:

  • Desalination of seawater,
  • Flush-less urinals,
  • Water recycling from sewer,
  • Rainwater harvesting,
  • Lot and neighborhood retention engineering
  • Are things that are currently being developed to build on existing water supplies and further reduce the impacts of drought in dry climates. Whatever method is used, however, extensive monitoring of precipitation and water usage are the best way to prepare for a drought, inform the public on the problem, and implement conservation strategies.

The following tips were developed by a coalition of specialists on water conservation in Florida, and are also consistent with the recommendations that were developed through the National Disaster Education Coalition's "Drought Forum":

Indoor Use


  • Never pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it. Use it to water your indoor plants or garden.
  • Make sure your home is leak-free. When you are certain that no water is being used in your home, take a reading of the water meter. Wait 30 minutes and then take a second reading. If the meter reading changes, you have a leak!
  • Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers. One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year!


  • Check for toilet leaks by adding food coloring to the tank. If you have a leak, the color will appear in the bowl within 30 minutes. (Flush immediately to avoid stains.)
  • If the toilet handle frequently sticks in the flush position letting water run constantly, replace or adjust it.
  • Leaky toilets usually can be fixed inexpensively by replacing the flapper.
  • Install a toilet displacement device to cut down on the amount of water needed for each flush. (Contrary to popular opinion a brick should not be used because it can dissolve and the loose pieces can cause damage to the internal parts. Instead, place a one-gallon plastic jug of water into the tank to displace toilet flow or purchase a device available at most hardware and home centers designed for this purpose.) Be sure installation does not interfere with the operating parts.
  • Consider purchasing a low-volume toilet that uses less than half the water of older models. NOTE: In many areas, low-volume units are required by law.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low-flow version.
  • Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water for watering plants.
  • In the shower, turn the water on to get wet; turn off to lather up; then turn the water back on to rinse. Repeat when washing your hair.
  • Don't let the water run while brushing your teeth, washing your face or shaving.
  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects, and other similar waste in the trash rather than the toilet.


  • Operate automatic dishwashers only when they are fully loaded. Use the "light wash" feature if available to use less water.
  • When hand washing dishes, save water by filling two containers - one with soapy water and the other with rinse water containing a small amount of chlorine bleach.
  • Most dishwashers can clean soiled dishes very well, so dishes do not have to be rinsed before washing. Just remove large particles of food, and put the soiled dishes in the dishwasher.
  • Store drinking water in the refrigerator. Don't let the tap run while you are waiting for water to cool.
  • Do not use running water to thaw meat or other frozen foods. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator, or use the defrost setting on your microwave.
  • Do not waste water waiting for it to get hot. Capture it for other uses such as plant watering or heat it on the stove or in a microwave.
  • Clean vegetables in a pan filled with water rather than running water from the tap. Re-use the water that vegetables are washed in for cleaning or watering plants.
  • Kitchen sink disposals require lots of water to operate properly. Start a compost pile as an alternate method of disposing of food waste, or simply dispose of food in the garbage.


  • Operate automatic clothes washers only when they are fully loaded or set the water level for the size of your load.

Long Term Indoor Water Conservation

  • Retrofit all household faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
  • Consider installing an instant hot water heater on your sink
  • Insulate your water pipes to reduce heat loss and prevent them from breaking if you have a sudden and unexpected spell of freezing weather.
  • If you are considering installing a new heat pump or air-conditioning system, the new air-to-air models are just as efficient as the water-to-air type and do not waste water.
  • Install a water-softening systems only when the minerals in the water would damage your pipes. Turn the softener off while on vacation.
  • When purchasing a new appliance, choose one that is more energy and water efficient.

Outdoor Use


  • If you have a well at home, check your pump periodically. If the pump turns on and off while water is not being used, you have a leak.

Car Washing

  • Use a shut-off nozzle on your hose that can be adjusted down to a fine spray, so that water flows only as needed. When finished, turn it off at the faucet instead of at the nozzle to avoid leaks. Check hose connectors to make sure plastic or rubber washers are in place to prevent leaks.
  • Consider using a commercial car wash that recycles water. If you wash your own car, park on the grass so that you will be watering it at the same time.

Lawn Care

  • Don't overwater your lawn. Lawns only need to be watered every five to seven days in the summer, and every 10 to 14 days in the winter. A heavy rain eliminates the need for watering for up to two weeks. Most of the year, lawns only need one inch of water per week. Buy a rain gauge so that you can better determine when to water.
  • Water in several short sessions rather than one long one in order for your lawn to better absorb moisture. For example, water in ten-minute sessions spaced 30 minutes apart, rather than one straight 30-minute session.
  • Water lawns during the designated hours which are early morning or late evening to reduce evaporation.
  • Position sprinklers so water lands on the lawn and shrubs and not on paved areas.
  • Avoid sprinklers that spray a fine mist; most of the mist evaporates before it reaches the lawn. Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly. Florida law now requires that "anyone who purchases and installs an automatic lawn sprinkler system MUST install a rain sensor device or switch which will override the irrigation cycle when adequate rainfall has occurred."
  • Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches, or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture.
  • Avoid over fertilizing your lawn. Applying fertilizer increases the need for water. Apply fertilizers that contain slow-release, water-insoluble forms of nitrogen.
  • Use a broom or blower instead of a hose to clean leaves and other debris from your driveway or sidewalk.
  • Do not leave sprinklers or hoses unattended. A garden hose can pour out 600 gallons or more in only a few hours. Use a bell timer to remind yourself to turn sprinklers off.


  • If you have a swimming pool, consider installing a new water-saving pool filter. A single back-flushing with a traditional filter uses 180 to 250 gallons of water.
  • Cover pools and spas to reduce evaporation of water.

Long Term Outdoor Conservation

  • Plant it smart. Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs and trees. Once established, they do not need water as frequently and usually will survive a dry period without watering. They also require less fertilizer or herbicides. Landscape with plants that are heat and drought tolerant and that do not require much water to live. Small plants require less water to become established. Group plants together based on similar water needs.
  • Install irrigation devices that are the most water efficient for each use. Micro and drip irrigation and soaker hoses are examples of efficient devices.
  • Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil. (Help preserve native cypress forests by selecting other types of mulch such as treated melaleuca.) Mulch also helps control weeds that compete with landscape plants for water.
  • Avoid purchasing recreational water toys that require a constant stream of water.
  • Avoid installing ornamental water features (such as fountains) unless they use recycled water.

Within the Community

  • Participate in public water conservation meetings conducted by your local government, utility or water management district.
  • Follow water conservation and water shortage rules in effect. You are included in the restrictions even if your water comes from a private well.
  • Encourage your employer to promote water conservation in the workplace.
  • Patronize businesses that practice water conservation, such as restaurants that only serve water upon request.
  • Report water losses (broken pipes, open hydrants, errant sprinklers, abandoned free-flowing wells, etc.) to the property owner, local authorities or your water management district.
  • Encourage your school system and local government to help develop and promote a water conservation ethic.
  • Support projects that will lead to an increased use of reclaimed wastewater for irrigation and other uses.
  • Support efforts that create a concern for water conservation among tourists.
  • Promote water conservation in community newsletters, on bulletin boards, and by example. Encourage your friends, neighbors, and co-workers to "be water smart."
  • Conserve water because it is the right thing to do - even when someone else is footing the bill, such as when you are staying at a hotel.
  • Try to do one thing each day that will result in saving water. Every drop counts!

Water Restrictions

In some communities where drought conditions exist, officials may recommend measures to restrict use of water. These recommendations may include such procedures as watering lawns and washing cars on odd or even days of the week, at night, or on weekends. The restrictions may limit hours or prohibit use of water, or require use of hand watering instead of using sprinkler systems that use much more water. You should check with your local authorities or water utility for information on water restrictions that may be imposed for your area.

Actions to Take after Surviving Drought Disasters

Once a drought has passed, it is important not to dismiss all of the mitigation efforts in the area, home, and community. It will still take several years to replenish water sources such as lakes and streams perhaps. If you live in an area that depends on artesian ground water, it will take several years to replenish the source aquifers. So, continuing with the conservation methods used during the drought would be good habits to continue into the future.

Additional Resources on Surviving Drought Disasters

Please contact your local water authority or utility district, or your local emergency management agency for information specific to your area.

Historical Notes On Surviving Drought Disasters

Central Arizona is currently experiencing a very long term drought even though various years have a seeming abundance of rain and snow. (2009).

Information Credits:

Some of the content of this guide is in the public domain. Requested attribution is as follows:

From: Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages. Produced by the National Disaster Education Coalition, Washington, D.C., 1999.


Coalition of specialists on water conservation in Florida and recommendations that were developed through the National Disaster Education Coalition's "Drought Forum":

Vintage Photograph of the Great Dust Bowl--1930.
Agriculture Drought Results

GeekPhilosopher: Instant download of free stock photos, images, backgrounds, and desktop wallpapers. Pictures can be used for personal and commercial web sites.


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