April 16, 2014

Southwestern Nebraska declared disaster area due to lingering drought (AUDIO)

Rain continues to come in short supply in portions of Nebraska, prompting the federal government to declare eight southwestern counties disaster areas due to the lingering drought.

Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Dan Steinkruger announces Keith, Perkins, Lincoln, Chase, Hayes, Frontier, Hitchcock, and Red Willow have been declared disaster areas.

“It reflects the on-going multi-year drought conditions that we have in that entire region,” Steinkruger tells Nebraska Radio Network.

While much of Nebraska has received sufficient rainfall to official declare an end to the drought, drought conditions enter their third year in southwestern Nebraska.

The dry conditions affect not just grain producers, but also cattle grazing.

Until more rain falls in southwestern Nebraska, the USDA will offer emergency loans to producers.

“I think the question is, going forward, are we going to moderate and maybe decrease that drought area in Nebraska or are we going to continue right on into the summer months,” according to Steinkruger.

The Secretary of Agriculture declared the eight counties disaster areas based on the U.S. Drought Monitor drought intensity value, which registers the area as in extreme drought.

Producers in 10 counties contiguous to the eight in the declaration are eligible for certain disaster assistance.

Producers can contact the local FSA Service Center for more information on what assistance might be available.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]


Eastern Nebraska fire danger very high today

Nebraska fire departments in eastern Nebraska are on alert today as the chance for brush and grass fires very high. Josh Boustead is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Valley and says a combination weather conditions prompted this alert.

Boustead says a spark from a brush fire, burn barrel or even a tossed cigarette is a danger right now. Everyone is advised to use special care with smoking material and anything dealing with fire outdoors.

Boustead says there is very little moisture in the ground due to lack of snow during the winter. The grass and other ground cover is very brittle and dry and prime fuel for fire. The windy conditions today will also cause problems by spreading fire as well as very low humidity levels.

The weekend forecast is calling for much needed rain with a chance of thunderstorms on Saturday.

Feds promise to improve predictions of drought

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

As many Nebraska farmers are beginning the spring planting process, U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency and others in the federal government are looking to improve drought forecasts.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do about drought,” Vilsack says. “What you can do is forecast it more effectively and in a more timely way, so we put together a ‘Drought Resiliency Task Force’ at the federal level. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the USDA are combining and leading this effort and we are actually working on better forecasting models.”

The latest forecast from the federal government suggests the drought in California and the southwest United States will continue, while pockets of the Midwest, including parts of Nebraska, are predicted to emerge from drought this spring.

After the devastating drought of 2012 which lingered in many areas in 2013, Vilsack says his agency is financing research into how farmers can better use the water that is available.

“We’ve just recently announced a $30 million challenge grant to universities, five years of grant monies to take a look at water and how we might be able to utilize water more efficiently and effectively in agricultural production, so we’ll obviously get benefits from that,” Vilsack says. “We have a series of smaller grants under our Conservation Grant Program that’s really focused on looking at how forage can be improved, how irrigation systems can be improved.”

The USDA is also establishing “Climate Change Hubs” in seven locations around the country,  “which is going to evaluate the vulnerabilities, and create mitigation and adaption strategies, and then we have a series of smaller programs,” Vilsack says. The closest hub to Nebraska will be in Ames, Iowa.

Passage of the new Farm Bill in January also re-activated disaster programs for livestock producers that had lapsed last fall.

Be prepared for severe weather by attending Lincoln symposium

CloudsSpringtime weather can quickly turn hazardous and Nebraskans of all ages need to be educated about the risks. The annual Central Plains Severe Weather Symposium will be held this weekend at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

UNL climatologist Ken Dewey says the offerings will include what’s called Family Weatherfest.

“We have 12 stations with hands-on activities for families that are engaged in weather for little kids all the way to the grandparents,” Dewey says. “We have exhibitors throughout the building and in the auditorium, we also have speakers.”

One of those speakers will be talking about last year’s devastating flooding in Colorado.

“Bob Henson will talk about those floods that occured in Colorado, not a once in a 100, not a once in a 200, but once in 500-year flood, 16-inches of rain in Boulder, Colorado, incredible flooding and that floodwater made its way to the Platte River.”

Dewey says another presentation will focus on weather myths. There will also be a talk by a forecaster at the national Storm Prediction Center about last year’s deadly Oklahoma tornadoes.

“Talking about what it was like to be at the Storm Prediction Center forecasting those tornadoes and what information the SPC uses to help keep us safe up here when our severe weather season kicks in,” Dewey says.

National Weather Service meteorologist Barb Mayes will discuss this past year’s severe weather in Nebraska and talk about what we might be able to expect in the spring and summer ahead.

The symposium is Saturday and includes weather spotter training at 2 P-M. Family Weatherfest runs from 9 A-M to 2 P-M. All events are at the UNL East Campus at 3310 Holdrege Street in Lincoln.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice 

Get training on severe weather preparedness this weekend

Dark CloudsTopping off Severe Weather Awareness Week, a regional weather seminar is planned for tomorrow in southeast Nebraska.

B.J. Fictum, the Saline County emergency management coordinator, says people will learn about being ready for spring and summer severe weather and storm spotters will get training.

The event will feature Peggy Willenberg and Melanie Metz, known as the Twister Sisters.

“They’re still out on the road, they’re still chasing,” Fictum says. “When we talked to them in January and they expressed an interest in coming down. We asked if they’re still at it, and they are, they’re still chasing storms and doing tours. They had some really good chases lately they’re going to talk about in their presentation.”

The Twister Sisters return to the area on the 10th anniversary year of the tornado that ripped through the Wilber and Hallam areas, destroying much of Hallam. Both women aided in rescue operations shortly after the tornado, which rated as an F-4 and was on the ground for 52 miles across southeast Nebraska.

“Storm chasers, at least the good ones, the educational ones, do not only chase storms,” Fictum says. “They see someone that needs help, they see a person trapped, they see debris in the roadway, they’ll stop, they’ll solve the problem.”

Wayne County Emergency Management director Nic Kenmitz and Sheriff LeRoy Janssen are scheduled to give a presentation on last October’s tornadoes in the Wayne area. UNL Climatologist Ken Dewey and National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist Brian Smith will also be at the session.

Crete 4th graders will be displaying their artwork, which includes over 100 severe weather posters entered as part of Nebraska Severe Weather Awareness Week.

Among the demonstrators, Fictum says a new addition this year is an interactive display of tornado safe rooms.

“They’re going to actually bring down two or three pre-fab safe rooms so people can take a look at what a safe room is,” he says.

Under an emergency management and Lower Big Blue NRD program, Fictum says more than 20 applications for grant funds in Saline County and another 20 in Gage County have been made by property owners to have safe rooms in their homes.

The Saline Regional Weather Seminar is Saturday. The workshop and training starts at 12:30 PM at the Saline Center, west of Wilber on Nebraska Highway 15.

Elsewhere, storm spotter classes are planned through the National Weather Service in the coming weeks in several Nebraska communities, including: Butte, Valentine, Maywood, Hershey, Broken Bow, Thedford, Mullen, Ogallala, Ewing, Dunning, Atkinson and Sutherland.

For details on upcoming spotter training, go here: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lbf/?n=lbfspottersched

Thanks to Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice