Few states can claim the expertise in drought analysis or climate science that Nebraska enjoys, and those advantages continue to grow.
For that, Nebraskans can thank the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and wider NU system, along with independent, data-driven researchers and state leaders who put science ahead of politics.
In December, UNL celebrated the 20th anniversary of hosting the National Drought Mitigation Center. Last month, UNL announced it had separated out a new state climate office from its six-state High Plains Regional Climate Center.
These investments help distinguish our agricultural and agribusiness state. They help farmers, ranchers, implement dealers, seed sellers, bankers and businesses plan better for lasting changes in the weather.
You don’t need to tell Nebraskans that the state is home to some of the nation’s most extreme weather. Wild swings in temperature, precipitation and storms are the norm. You also don’t need to tell farmers and ranchers that climate trends don’t look like they once did.
Even Nebraska’s city dwellers understand that agriculture is responsible for more than a quarter of the gross state product. They get that water management, for ag and people, is a challenge.
That’s why the University of Nebraska hosts the internationally respected Water for Food Institute. It’s why the university system wisely identified water, weather, climate and agriculture as a key academic niche.
UNL’s research on long-term weather trends and on climate is widely respected. University officials are right when they’ve said there is much to learn about the climate without delving into the politics of climate change.
The UNL drought center has an international reputation for cutting-edge analysis and innovation. This focus is vital. During 2012’s severe drought, parts of our country that produce 70 percent to 75 percent of U.S. corn and soybeans and 67 percent of cattle suffered major damage, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
UNL will boost understanding by increasing the number of weather stations gathering data, quadrupling staffing for analyzing Nebraska weather trends and improving its online presence so data is easier to obtain and understand.
These investments should help Nebraskans better adjust to long-term weather trends. A farmer might be able to plant different crops. A rancher might manage herds differently.
This research represents a strong legacy that reaches beyond the work of a UNL climate scientist decades ago named Donald Wilhite, who wanted to encourage drought preparedness.
In 1995, this pioneering work helped create the National Drought Mitigation Center. The feds recently recognized the center’s work with a $2.4 million grant for drought mitigation research.
All thanks to a smartly focused state university that provides needed, practical information to policymakers, people and the world.