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Recreation and Tourism

Drought impacts the tourism and recreation sectors both directly and indirectly, and affects the sectors during all seasons. Lower water levels or snowpack affects the availability of recreational activities and associated tourism, and a resulting loss of revenue can severely impact supply chains and the economy locally, regionally, and potentially nationally.

Recreation and Tourist Attractions in Drought

This map shows U.S. national parks experiencing drought, according to the current U.S. Drought Monitor. National park data is recorded by the National Park Service.

This map shows U.S. ski resorts experiencing drought, according to the current U.S. Drought Monitor. Ski resort data is recorded by NOAA's National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC). 

This map shows U.S. reservoirs experiencing drought, according to the current U.S. Drought Monitor. Reservoir data is recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey.

National Parks in Drought

The color with the hex code #7fb135 identifies:
Parks Not in Drought
The color with the hex code #ffff00 identifies:
Parks in D0 - Abnormally Dry
The color with the hex code #ffcc99 identifies:
Parks in D1 - Moderate Drought
The color with the hex code #ff6600 identifies:
Parks in D2 - Severe Drought
The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
Parks in D3 - Extreme Drought
The color with the hex code #660000 identifies:
Parks in D4 - Exceptional Drought

Ski Resorts in Drought

The color with the hex code #7fb135 identifies:
Ski Resorts Not in Drought
The color with the hex code #ffff00 identifies:
Ski Resorts in D0 - Abnormally Dry
The color with the hex code #ffcc99 identifies:
Ski Resorts in D1 - Moderate Drought
The color with the hex code #ff6600 identifies:
Ski Resorts in D2 - Severe Drought
The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
Ski Resorts in D3 - Extreme Drought
The color with the hex code #660000 identifies:
Ski Resorts in D4 - Exceptional Drought

Reservoirs in Drought

The color with the hex code #7fb135 identifies:
Reservoirs Not in Drought
The color with the hex code #ffff00 identifies:
Reservoirs in D0 - Abnormally Dry
The color with the hex code #ffcc99 identifies:
Reservoirs in D1 - Moderate Drought
The color with the hex code #ff6600 identifies:
Reservoirs in D2 - Severe Drought
The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
Reservoirs in D3 - Extreme Drought
The color with the hex code #660000 identifies:
Reservoirs in D4 - Exceptional Drought
Updates Weekly  -  01/21/21
Updates Weekly  -  01/21/21
Updates Weekly  -  01/21/21
357
ski resorts experiencing Moderate to Exceptional (D1-D4) Drought
1,413
reservoirs experiencing Moderate to Exceptional (D1-D4) Drought
9
%
of streams reporting less than 10% of flow than their average
32
national parks experiencing Moderate to Exceptional (D1-D4) Drought
Key Issues

Reduction in Available Activities

Drought affects activities that are dependent on water or snow, such as boating and skiing. Indirect effects include reduced revenues for tourism- and recreation-dependent local economies and resulting mental health impacts related to economic losses, particularly for small business owners.

Wildfire

There is an increased risk for wildfires during drought, which can have a major impact on tourism and outdoor recreation. Limited access and public perceptions of danger can lead to fewer visitors and, therefore, lost revenue from tourism.

Degradation of Water Resources

Drought can result in poorer water quality, low streamflow, and reduced snowpack. These impacts limit activities, increase the risk for contracting waterborne disease, and shorten the season for outdoor recreation and tourism.

Hunting and Fishing

Drought alters wildlife populations and behavior, which can impact hunting and fishing.

Drought Impacts on Recreation and Tourism

The outdoor recreation industry contributes 2.2% of the U.S. national gross domestic product, contributing—depending on how you define the scope—between $427 and $887 billion dollars annually to the U.S. economy. 

Water resources are key to all forms of outdoor recreation. Drought directly affects snow sports, such as skiing and snowmobiling, and activities conducted on rivers and lakes, such as boating, rafting, canoeing, fishing, and swimming, due to reductions in snowpack and streamflows. In addition, activities such as biking, hiking, and camping also rely on sufficient water. Drought conditions can result in shortened or shifted seasons for these activities (Thomas et al. 2013).

Drought, as well as recreationists’ negative perceptions of drought, fire bans, or wildfires, may result in decreased visitations, cancellations in hotel stays, a reduction in booked holidays, or reduced merchandise sales. Reduced revenues in the sector can negatively impact the livelihood of communities and the many small outdoor recreation businesses that have limited resources to manage the financial burden of drought. This, in turn, impacts the mental health of small business owners, staff, and communities. 

Lower water quality during drought conditions can increase risk for contracting waterborne disease, and lower water levels can result in increased risk for injury during recreational activities. Drought also affects wildlife, which can adversely impact wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities.

NIDIS is supporting multiple research projects with the ultimate goal of helping the recreation and tourism sector build resilience to drought. The completed project, Drought and Outdoor Recreation: Impacts, Adaptation Strategies, and Information Gaps in the Intermountain West, examines how drought impacts business operations for water-based outdoor recreation businesses, adaptation strategies of the businesses, current drought and weather information use, and drought information needs. A newly funded project, Improving Drought Indicators to Support Drought Impact Mitigation for Natural Resource Management, will investigate the relationships between indicators, thresholds, triggers, and impacts within economic sectors that fall under the purview of natural resource management, including recreation.

    Drought Early Warning for the Recreation and Tourism Sector 

    Drought can have far-reaching impacts on recreation and tourism, including reduced availability of outdoor recreation activities (e.g., skiing), decreased visitation due to perceptions of drought, and loss of revenue to businesses, communities, and government agencies. Early warning and proactive preparation for drought are essential for businesses and communities to mitigate these impacts and be resilient to drought. The resources below are organized by the key components of a drought early warning system: (1) drought observation and monitoring; (2) drought planning and preparedness; (3) prediction and forecasting of drought; (4) communication and outreach to the public and affected sectors; and (5) interdisciplinary and applied research on topics of concern to drought-affected sectors.

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