Drought Unit Overview

The lab activities in this module were created by LuAnn Dahlman and Betsy Youngman for the EarthLabs project. Student Pages »

Why Teach about Drought?

Compared with fast and fascinating weather disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, drought doesn't get much attention. It's a quieter disasterone that creeps in so inconspicuously that it's not always clear that it has arrived. Despite the fact that it is less obvious than other disasters, its pervasiveness and persistence make it every bit as deadly as intense storms. In cases of severe and long-lasting drought in areas without stable infrastructure, widespread famine and political unrest result, and the environment sustains damage that can take years to overcome.

Most regions of the United States experience drought at least occasionally. Depending upon how severe the conditions get and how long they last, drought can devastate crops and forests as well as businesses. When drought occurs, water supplies for agriculture, industry, and personal use decrease, and people in the affected areas need to find ways to cope with the shortage or leave the area.

Why use this set of lessons?

Drought is an ever-present threat to all people whose lifestyles have been built on the availability of water. Across the planet, millions of humans make their homes and grow crops in areas that receive minimal amounts of precipitation. Even a slight decrease in the annual amount of rain in such regions can cause crops, animals, and human populations to suffer.

Students learn that when precipitation drops below normal, drought conditions can develop and economic, environmental, and social impacts can follow. The unit teaches students to interpret climate data to recognize the symptoms and evaluate the severity of drought. It helps them realize that drought can still devastate areas that have stable infrastructure and access to expensive technologies. The unit raises awareness of the need to be prepared to face drought conditions that may become more common as our planet warms.

Key Questions

Key Questions addressed by this unit include:
  • What is drought?
  • What are its causes, symptoms, and impacts?
  • Where and when does drought occur?
  • How can humans reduce the impacts of drought?
  • Can new technologies beat drought?

      Next Page »