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Predicting the Future of Drought Prediction

Better instruments and models could help scientists forecast droughts years in advance

3 min read
Photo of farmer viewing dry land
Photo: Scott Olsen/Getty Images

As extreme weather events go, droughts—like the one that singed Russia’s wheat crop two summers ago and the one that engulfed the United States in July—are about as tricky as it gets. Unlike hurricanes and tornadoes, drought does not have an obvious start or end. In fact, there isn’t even a clear definition for it, making it hard to measure and monitor, let alone predict. But with better observations of the earth, oceans, and atmosphere and improvements in computer modeling, scientists think they’ll be able to foresee the chances of drought up to a decade in advance, and better predict droughts that arise suddenly or last longer than a few months.


Today, scientists can forecast drought only about three months ahead for most parts of the world with any significant certainty. 


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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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