When we think of severe droughts, we usually think of periods of extremely dry weather that persists long enough to cause problems such as crop damage and water shortages. However, the truth is that dry conditions develop for different reasons which is why there is more than one definition of drought. According to David Miskus, a drought expert and meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, a drought is caused by not only lack of precipitation and high temperatures but also by overuse and overpopulation, and it can occur in virtually all climates.
Of all the weather-related phenomena that can cause severe economic impact in the United States, droughts come in second only to hurricanes, according to the National Climatic Data Center. But unlike hurricanes, which are easily identified and straightforward to classify in terms of wind speeds, droughts are much tougher to define. Sadly, droughts and their many repercussions, such as extreme famine, have been known to humankind since antiquity and still occur today, with starvation and malnutrition being some of the tragic outcomes in many parts of the world. These are the 25 Most Severe Droughts Ever Recorded.
The 1983 United States Drought
The United States Drought of 1983 started in late spring and involved numerous states in the Midwest and the Great Plains. Intense heat with temperatures over 100° F (38° C) affected numerous portions of the United States, specifically Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky; and killed hundreds of people.
The Deccan Famine of 1630–32
After three consecutive crop failures and continuous droughts that took place in India, the Deccan Famine of 1630–32 was one of the worst in the country. More than two million died during this time.
The Vietnamese Drought of 1944
The Vietnamese drought of 1944 caused the winter-spring harvest to decrease by 20%. This coupled with pests, war and a flood during the harvest season led to what is known as the Vietnamese famine of 1945.
The 1850 Severe Drought in Australia
Lack of winter rains was the main factor in the 1850 Australian drought resulting in major livestock losses across inland New South Wales and around the western river region. It was considered one of the most disastrous droughts in Australia in the nineteenth century.
The 2010 China Drought
The 2010 China drought was a series of severe Spring droughts that affected a huge swath of the country as well as parts of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam and Thailand. The drought has been referred to as one of the worst droughts in Southwest Asia.