Articles | Volume 16, issue 7
Research article
06 Jul 2012
Research article |  | 06 Jul 2012

A process-based typology of hydrological drought

A. F. Van Loon and H. A. J. Van Lanen

Abstract. Hydrological drought events have very different causes and effects. Classifying these events into distinct types can be useful for both science and management. We propose a hydrological drought typology that is based on governing drought propagation processes derived from catchment-scale drought analysis. In this typology six hydrological drought types are distinguished, i.e. (i) classical rainfall deficit drought, (ii) rain-to-snow-season drought, (iii) wet-to-dry-season drought, (iv) cold snow season drought, (v) warm snow season drought, and (vi) composite drought. The processes underlying these drought types are the result of the interplay of temperature and precipitation at catchment scale in different seasons. As a test case, about 125 groundwater droughts and 210 discharge droughts in five contrasting headwater catchments in Europe have been classified. The most common drought type in all catchments was the classical rainfall deficit drought (almost 50% of all events), but in the selected catchments these were mostly minor events. If only the five most severe drought events of each catchment are considered, a shift towards more rain-to-snow-season droughts, warm snow season droughts, and composite droughts was found. The occurrence of hydrological drought types is determined by climate and catchment characteristics. The drought typology is transferable to other catchments, including outside Europe, because it is generic and based upon processes that occur around the world. A general framework is proposed to identify drought type occurrence in relation to climate and catchment characteristics.