December 18, 2014

Climatologist sees little chance for break in hot, dry weather (AUDIO)

Hot, dry weather has Nebraska in its grip, with little relief in sight.

State Climatologist Al Dutcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln says it’s been hot and dry for a long time now. A mild winter produced insignificant snowfall, both in the state and in the form of snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains. Then, the tap shut off. Nebraska is far behind in needed rainfall and has been coping with above-normal temperatures the past 12 months; September being the only month over the past year to record below-normal temperatures.

The crippling combination of dry weather and hot temperatures threatens crops in Nebraska. It comes at the wrong time, says Dutcher, who notes that the corn crop has entered its pollination phase when rain is critical to fill out kernels.

He would like to provide some optimism, a little hope, but says none of the models used at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources paint an optimistic forecast.

“I will say this though, a lot of times we do get surprised by a rain event that doesn’t show up in the models and that’s kind of what I’m hoping (for) that one of these events turns out to be a large magnitude event that drops a couple of inches of moisture like we’ve seen here a couple of weeks ago in southeast Nebraska,” according to Dutcher. “If that happens, then all bets are off. But until it happens, the situation is not going to get any better any time soon.”

Nebraska producers last year came to the rescue of producers in the southern portion of the United States, particularly Texas, who bought Nebraska hay and sold cattle to Nebraska producers as they coped with the drought. That might hurt Nebraska producers now, as the hay stock dwindles even as the cattle numbers swell.

Government has responded.

Ranchers in the Panhandle can apply to use Conservation Reserve Program acres for grazing as they cope with spreading drought conditions.

The Nebraska Farm Service Agency has authorized ranchers in those counties to apply to use CRP land for grazing. Ranchers in Banner, Dawes, Morrill, Scotts Bluff, Sheridan and Sioux Counties still must apply to the FSA before grazing the eligible acres. Other counties might well soon qualify.

Drought conditions in Nebraska have prompted Gov. Dave Heineman to declare a state of emergency.

In making the declaration, Heineman authorizes state personnel and resources to assist with emergency situations and prevention and allows maximum flexibility to use the Nebraska National Guard and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency assets and resources as needed.

The governor’s office also reports Heineman has directed the Nebraska Department of Roads to advance the starting date for roadside haying from July 15 to July 3 in the following 55 counties: Adams, Arthur, Banner, Blaine, Boyd, Box Butte, Brown, Chase, Cherry, Cheyenne, Custer, Dawes, Dawson, Deuel, Dundy, Franklin, Furnas, Frontier, Gage, Garden, Garfield, Gosper, Grant, Greeley, Harlan, Hayes, Hitchcock, Holt, Hooker, Howard, Jefferson, Kearney, Keith, Keya Paha, Kimball, Lincoln, Logan, Loup, McPherson, Morrill, Nuckolls, Pawnee, Perkins, Phelps, Red Willow, Richardson, Rock, Scotts Bluff, Sheridan, Sherman, Sioux, Thayer, Thomas, Valley, and Webster.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]

AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews State Climatologist Al Dutcher on the drought. [12 min.]