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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 11,1999


                            August 11, 1999

Interagency Task Force on Drought and Heat

The President directed the establishment of a task force to coordinate the federal response to the crippling drought problem that continues to grip much of the nation. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste convened the task force representatives on Monday morning. The task force began cataloguing the extensive federal efforts undertaken thus far to address the crisis. In addition, the task force identified potential additional federal responses to assist communities in planning for and responding to breaking emergencies, some of which are described below. The task force also commenced work on assessing the impact of these droughts so as to identify further needs and possible federal responses. Lastly, the task force will help coordinate federal input into the National Drought Policy Commission created by Congress in 1998.

The Department of Commerce

Web Based Heat Advisory:

Starting immediately, Commerce Secretary William Daley has instructed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to make available to managers, planners and the public a weekly assessment of potential heat threats. These assessments are now posted and updated weekly at Previously, these assessments had been available only on a local basis. This action will now make it possible for any official or citizen anywhere to access this vital information. It also integrates the heat assessments with assessments of other weather-related threats. With this action, there is a one-stop shop for all of NOAA's weather threat data.

Called the Threats Assessment, it consists of maps that show where extreme conditions such as temperature, precipitation, wind, and drought are forecast over the coming three to ten days. It is updated weekly or more frequently as events require. The Threats Assessment targets emergency managers, local officials, and forecasters. It provides information that communities and individuals can use to take precautionary steps to mitigate the impacts of extreme events. This product has been in development for nearly two years. NOAA worked with a wide range of stakeholders to create a tool that is useful at the state and local levels.

Drought Mapping and Forecast Service:

Also starting immediately, Commerce, working in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and the National Drought Mitigation Center, has launched a drought monitoring and forecast service. This service, which had been available only in experimental form, summarizes the extent and intensity of drought nationwide and forecasts whether droughts will strengthen or weaken. Like the Threat Assessment, the Drought Monitor is on the Internet at

The three-way partnership is responding to the need for accurate, centralized drought information by developing a map that summarizes information from numerous drought indices and indicators on a single, easy-to-read color map.

The map displays general areas where drought is occurring as well as dry areas where drought threatens. To create the map, the partnership blends information from numerous sources, including the departments of Commerce, Agriculture and Interior.

The map uses a new classification system to show drought intensity and type, similar to the schemes currently in use for hurricanes and tornadoes. The map combines key indices of rainfall and drought to produce the final drought intensity rating. Since drought often affects various activities differently, the map indicates if drought is affecting agriculture, fire danger, or water supplies. State-of-the-art forecast tools are being used to indicate whether drought will strengthen or weaken significantly over the next two weeks.

Two Week Warning For Extreme Heat Events:

Finally, for next summer, the NOAA will extend extreme heat forecasts for up to two weeks in advance. The predictions will be in the form of probabilities of the number of consecutive days heat indices will exceed critical values. The forecasts will be included in the newly operational weekly Threats Assessment. For the first time, these forecasts will provide officials and leaders from organizations like the American Red Cross with a "heads-up" for potentially life threatening conditions well in advance. Local NOAA weather service offices will then work with health officials and communities to highlight the impacts to the area. This information should help the public to take informed, life saving actions.

The Department of Agriculture

Today, Secretary Glickman announced that the entire state of Connecticut, 19 counties in Maryland, six additional counties in New York, five counties in Virginia, and one county in New Mexico will be declared agricultural disaster areas. Such declarations make those areas eligible for emergency, low-interest loans because of the excessive heat and drought. The Secretary's declaration triggers low interest SBA loans for agriculture dependent businesses.

USDA has approved nearly $4.9 million for 11 states for the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) funds for the drought. The ECP provides emergency cost-share funding for water conservation measures, federal crop insurance, and the Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which provides compensation for crops for which crop insurance is unavailable.