Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Madelynn. Madelynn Wonders, “what causes droughts” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Madelynn!

Do you like to keep an eye on the weather? Rather than watching the weather report on television, most kids simply head outside and check the skies. Is it sunny or cloudy? Just look up!

Of course, looking up only tells you what the weather's like at that particular moment. It doesn't tell you much about what the weather will be like in a few hours or a few days. To get an idea of what the weather will be like over the next week, you'll need help from a meteorologist.

People keep a close eye on the weather for many different reasons. In addition to knowing how to dress appropriately, many people want to know if outdoor plans might be interrupted by rain. Others, such as farmers, might be hoping for rain and anxious to know when it'll arrive.

Most people tend to prefer sunshine over rain. In fact, some people wish that it would never rain. If they got their wish, though, they would definitely regret it, as the world isn't a very pleasant place to live in without rain. Just ask anyone who has experienced a severe drought.

In meteorological terms, a drought is a prolonged period of time with lower-than-normal precipitation. How long? That varies depending upon what the climate is normally like. It also depends upon your perspective. A few weeks or even months with little rain is normal in desert areas. If you're a farmer who just planted crops, though, a few weeks without rain can be disastrous.

Unlike hurricanes and tornadoes, whose devastation is felt immediately, the effects of drought can take a while to appear. That doesn't mean those effects are any less powerful, though. Sustained drought can have a worldwide impact on millions of people.

Drought can be caused by many factors. The primary cause is a sustained lack of precipitation. As with any weather-related phenomenon, there can be many factors that affect the amount of rain or snow an area gets.

An area with normal rainfall might still experience drought, though. How is that possible? Some areas get most of the water they use from rivers. If areas upstream do not get their normal amount of precipitation, then river levels can drop, resulting in drought conditions far downstream.

People can also play a role in causing droughts. Using too much water can strain local water supplies. Poor farming practices can also make matters worse. For example, humans were definitely a contributing factor to the severe drought conditions known as The Dust Bowl in the Midwest United States during the 1930s.

When a drought takes hold, its impact can be widespread and severe. Lands dry out. Crops suffer and food supplies can dwindle. Streams and rivers dry up. The level of water in lakes, reservoirs, and wells decreases. Just think of all the ways on which you rely upon water. During a drought, all those things are impacted.

So how does a drought end? One good rainfall usually isn't enough. Just like a drought often develops slowly, the end of a drought often takes a long time, too. An extended period of time with above-average precipitation is often required.

The type of precipitation can also be important. Light rains and thunderstorms usually don't do much good. Light rains don't bring enough water, whereas thunderstorms can bring too much water too soon. Extended, soaking rains do the most good to alleviate drought.

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