Hydrological response to different time scales of climatological drought: an evaluation of the Standardized Precipitation Index in a mountainous Mediterranean basin
Abstract. At present, the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) is the most widely used drought index to provide good estimations about the intensity, magnitude and spatial extent of droughts. The main advantage of the SPI in comparison with other indices is the fact that the SPI enables both determination of drought conditions at different time scales and monitoring of different drought types. It is widely accepted that SPI time scales affect different sub-systems in the hydrological cycle due to the fact that the response of the different water usable sources to precipitation shortages can be very different. The long time scales of SPI are related to hydrological droughts (river flows and reservoir storages). Nevertheless, few analyses empirically verify these statements or the usefulness of the SPI time scales to monitor drought. In this paper, the SPI at different time scales is compared with surface hydrological variables in a big closed basin located in the central Spanish Pyrenees. We provide evidence about the way in which the longer (>12 months) SPI time scales may not be useful for drought quantification in this area. In general, the surface flows respond to short SPI time scales whereas the reservoir storages respond to longer time scales (7–10 months). Nevertheless, important seasonal differences can be identified in the SPI-usable water sources relationships. This suggests that it is necessary to test the drought indices and time scales in relation to their usefulness for monitoring different drought types under different environmental conditions and water demand situations.