Global Characterization of the Varying Responses of the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index to Atmospheric Evaporative Demand
The standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI) is one of the well‐established drought metrics worldwide. It is simply computed using precipitation and atmospheric evaporative demand (AED) data. Although AED is considered a key driver of drought variability worldwide, it could have less impact on drought in specific regions and for particular times as a function of the magnitude of precipitation. Specifically, the influence of the AED might overestimate drought severity during both normal and humid periods, resulting in “false alarms” about drought impacts on physical and human environments. Here, we provided a global characterization of the sensitivity of the SPEI to changes of the AED. Results demonstrate that the contribution of AED to drought severity is largely impacted by the spatial and temporal variability of precipitation. Specifically, the impact of AED on drought severity was more pronounced during periods of low precipitation, compared to wet periods. Interestingly, drought severity in humid regions (as revealed by SPEI) also showed low sensitivity to AED under drier conditions. These results highlight the skill of SPEI in identifying the role of AED in drought evolution, especially in arid and semiarid regions whose climate is characterized typically by low precipitation. This advantage was also evident for humid environments, where SPEI did not overestimate drought severity due to the increased AED. These findings highlight the broader applicability of SPEI to accurately characterize drought severity worldwide.