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Standard Precipitation Index

The Standard Precipitation Index (SPI) is a drought index based only on precipitation. It is an index based on the probability of precipitation for any time scale. Some processes are rapidly affected by atmospheric behavior, such as dry land agriculture, and the relevant time scale is a month or two. Other processes have longer time scales, typically several months, such as the rate at which shallow wells, small ponds, and smaller rivers become drier or wetter. Some processes have much longer time scales, such as the rate at which major reservoirs, or aquifers, or large natural bodies of water rise and fall, and the time scale of these variations is on the order of several years.

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The SPI was formulated by Tom Mckee, Nolan Doesken and John Kleist of the Colorado Climate Center in 1993. The purpose of SPI is to assign a single numeric value to the precipitation that can be compared across regions with markedly different climates. The standardization of the SPI allows the index to determine the rarity of a current drought.

The Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) was designed to show that it is possible to simultaneously experience wet conditions on one or more time scales, and dry conditions at other time scales. Consequently, a separate SPI value is calculated for a selection of time scales.