The operational monitoring of long-term hydrological droughts is often based on the standardised precipitation index (SPI) for long accumulation periods (i.e., 12 months or longer) as a proxy indicator. This is mainly due to the current lack of near-real-time observations of relevant hydrological quantities, such as groundwater levels or total water storage (TWS). In this study, the correlation between multiple-timescale SPIs (between 1 and 48 months) and GRACE-derived TWS is investigated, with the goals of: (i) evaluating the benefit of including TWS data in a drought monitoring system, and (ii) testing the potential use of SPI as a robust proxy for TWS in the absence of near-real-time measurements of the latter. The main outcomes of this study highlight the good correlation between TWS anomalies (TWSA) and long-term SPI (12, 24 and 48 months), with SPI-12 representing a global-average optimal solution (R
= 0.350 ± 0.250). Unfortunately, the spatial variability of the local-optimal SPI underlines the difficulty in reliably capturing the dynamics of TWSA using a single meteorological drought index, at least at the global scale. On the contrary, over a limited area, such as Europe, the SPI-12 is able to capture most of the key traits of TWSA that are relevant for drought studies, including the occurrence of dry extreme values. In the absence of actual TWS observations, the SPI-12 seems to represent a good proxy of long-term hydrological drought over Europe, whereas the wide range of meteorological conditions and complex hydrological processes involved in the transformation of precipitation into TWS seems to limit the possibility of extending this result to the global scale.
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