The time to prepare for drought is not during a #drought — the Fence Post

Storm clouds gather as cows graze at the USDA-ARS Central Plains Experimental Range near Nunn, Colo.
Photo by David Augustine/USDA-ARS via the Fence Post

From the Fence Post (Amy Hadachek):

It’s the story of big climatological differences across Nebraska, as the state comes off of a year of records in 2019, with last year (2019) being the third wettest on record, while drought currently covers the western one-third of Nebraska, as well as northeast Nebraska and south central Nebraska.

“2019 was exceptional, with highly impactful weather events,” said Martha Shulski, director of the Nebraska State Climate Office and associate professor in the School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who was a key speaker during the virtual 20th annual Nebraska Grazing Conference on Aug. 11. “Timing and location of precipitation can mean everything. It wasn’t just a storm that caused the major impact in Nebraska last year, we had a cold, wet winter, a lot of snow on the ground, frozen soils, and rapid melting that all led to major impacts.”

Shulski discussed past, current and future climate trends, noting Nebraska’s temperatures are more variable than global averages.


How will 2020 finish out? Some eyebrow-raising answers begin with temperatures trending higher than normal for 2020 in Nebraska…

For autumn, the Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for September, October and November 2020 favors warmer than normal temperatures from western Kansas into the Rocky Mountain states. Precipitation points to wet (in North Dakota), however below-average precipitation is forecast for the Rocky Mountain states, southwest Nebraska, and the western half of Kansas and Oklahoma.

“We also expect the warming in Nebraska to increase at an unprecedented rate, than what it’s been historically,” Shulski said. “We expect a shift of drier conditions in summer, with a wetter winter and spring, and more extremes with Nebraska’s climate future.” Her climate prediction includes a longer growing season by several weeks with more evaporative demand with an increased water requirement, longer summers, hot nights, more hot days with more extreme rainfall events.

“The magnitude of expected changes will exceed those experienced in the last century. Regarding large scale events, luckily we’ve been pretty wet (2019) so we have a fair amount of water in soil profile. So when we dried out with high winds and evaporative conditions, it was actually okay since we came off a very wet year, she said.

To deal with the new weather outlook, Shulski said producers should plan for overall warmer and wetter climate punctuated by droughts and weather extremes, which she expects to see magnified in the future…


There are a couple things that set the benchmark, in terms of exceptionally low rangeland production. When the ‘climate drivers’ Pacific Decadal Oscillation and El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) are both in cool phases together, dry conditions occur about 50 percent of the time, said Justin Derner, research leader for the USDA-ARS Rangeland Resources and Systems Research Unit. Derner was also a speaker during the Nebraska Grazing Conference.

In the Great Plains, 1934 and 1956 were two of the worst years in 20th century records with tremendous soil loss and erosion.

Precipitation has increased the past 30 years across Nebraska except for places in the Nebraska Panhandle.

High Plains Drought Monitor August 11, 2020.

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