August 1, 2014

The silver lining of June storms: an end to the drought (AUDIO)

One month of well-above-normal rainfall has ended the drought in nearly all of Nebraska. But drought continues to plague a large portion of the United States.

Climatologist Brian Fuchs at the National Drought Mitigation Center on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln east campus says heavy June rains finally broke the drought which began in 2012.

“It’s nice to talk about improvements in the state,” Fuchs says in an interview with Nebraska Radio Network. “I know after the drought of 2012 and some of the lingering dryness last year, we just really had a hard time getting over the hump so to speak and seeing full recovery across the state.”

Drought crept into Nebraska in 2012. Little rain and high temperatures depleted subsoil moisture. Farmers pumped more irrigation that usual to keep crops from burning up. Pastures suffered.

Little relief came the following year. It seemed the drought would enter its third year when June hit.

Hit it did.

Storms shook Nebraska; tornadoes, hail, thunderstorms, straight-line winds, heavy rain left a lot of destruction in their wake. June 16th an EF4 tornado roared through the heart of Pilger, destroying a huge section of the city. Smaller tornadoes hit other cities.

A ray of benefit emerged, though.

Fuchs says the storms dumped above normal amounts of rain on much of the state, replenishing subsoil moisture and ending the drought.


Approximately 7% of Nebraska remains in moderate drought, the lowest severity of drought on the Drought Mitigation Center scale. Southwestern Nebraska, the area basically south of North Platte to the Kansas border around the Republican River still remains dry. A portion of north-central Nebraska remains abnormally dry.

While the storms of June ended drought conditions in the Midwest, portions of the country remain in drought, some severe.

Fuchs says the Southern Plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and portions of New Mexico remain in a drought that spread across that part of the United States in 2010. California and Nevada also have yet to emerge from drought.

While nearly half the United States suffered through drought until this year, about 34% remains in the grips of devastatingly dry conditions.

“A little over a third of the country still is seeing some drought and a little over 10% of the country is seeing extreme drought right now.”

Click here for the latest United States Drought Monitor.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]

Yes, it is as hot as you think is…maybe hotter

It’s hot out there.

How hot?

Hot enough to break some records in western Nebraska.

The sun was searing the Nebraska Panhandle plains Thursday where temperatures reached up to 112 degrees.

That mark was hit in rural Sioux County, as was 111 degrees about ten miles east of Harrison. Mitchell, Chadron and rural Banner County, Nebraska hit 108 and Pine Bluffs, Wyoming on the border of the two states topped out at 107.

Other scorching Nebraska temps saw Dalton at 106, Alliance tied and Scottsbluff set records at 105 and Sidney set a record at 104 degrees Thursday.

By Dave Collins, KSID

Presidential disaster declaration granted in wake of Pilger tornado

Federal officials have informed Gov. Dave Heineman his request for a presidential disaster declaration in wake of the Pilger tornado has been granted.

The declaration covers more than just the Pilger tornado, extending to cover damage from tornadoes and thunderstorms through southern and northeastern Nebraska between June 14th and the 21st.

Still, the biggest damage was done by an EF-4 tornado that ripped through the heart of Pilger, destroying more than half the town.

President Barack Obama has approved the presidential disaster declaration for 12 counties, which suffered storm damage from severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding.

“We appreciate the approval of the disaster declaration for Public Assistance,” said Gov. Heineman said in a written statement issued by his office. “The federal government and local entities have been good partners working with the State as we assessed the severe and extensive damage that occurred throughout Nebraska. I am proud of Nebraskans for coming together and helping each other in challenging times.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region VII office notified the governor that the Public Assistance portion of his request had been approved, according to the governor’s office. Public assistance can help offset the cost of clean-up, even repair or replacement of any infrastructure damaged by the storms, including roads, bridges, sewers, and power systems.

Public assistance has been extended to the counties of Cedar, Cuming, Dakota, Dixon, Franklin, Furnas, Harlan, Kearney, Phelps, Stanton, Thurston, and Wayne Counties.

Federal assistance to help individuals from Cedar, Cuming, Dixon, Stanton and Wayne Counties to recover from the storm is pending, according to FEMA officials [CORRECTION: We incorrectly reported earlier individual assistance had been granted. We apologize for the error].

“The public assistance declaration will help Nebraska recover some of the costs of responding to the disaster and will help fund rebuilding public infrastructure damaged by this disaster,” said Bryan Tuma, assistant director of Nebraska Emergency Management Agency in a written statement. “NEMA will work closely with local governments to help speed up the recovery process.”

Public assistance damage is expected to exceed $13 million.

NEMA will coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in assessing damages and distributing aid.


Tips for beating the heat, while avoiding skin cancer…and ‘skeeters

skeeterThe hottest days of summer have arrived in Nebraska, prompting reminders from health officials to drink plenty of water and wear light-weight, light-colored clothing. Also, take plenty of breaks if you’re exerting in the sun, especially when high temperatures are in the upper 80s and lower 90s.

Epidemiologist Patty Quinlisk encourages everyone who’s spending time outdoors to use plenty of sunscreen.

“We know that people who get burned or have lots of sun exposure are at risk for quite a few health events that you don’t want, the worst one being a kind of skin cancer called melanoma,” Quinlisk said. “But the bottom line is, you don’t want to burn yourself and you need to take precautions.”

Around 340 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are expected to be diagnosed in Nebraska this year.

Quinlisk advises applying sunscreen that’s SPF 15 or higher at least 20 minutes before heading outdoors. If you’re also using bug spray, it should be added on top of sunscreen.

“We do recommend you use them separately, that way you use the right amounts of both,” she says. “Put your sunscreen on first, then put bug spray on top of it. That makes sure the bug spray is on the outside and will repel the insects.”

Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours, according to Quinlisk.


Corps of Engineers: Missouri River will rise but not flood this summer

Gavins Point Dam

Gavins Point Dam

The experts predict higher-than-average runoff into the Missouri River this summer, but they’re quick to add, the waterway should stay well below flood stage and remain within its banks.

Kevin Stom an engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water control office in Omaha, says they have adjusted their forecasts.

“The 2014 calendar year forecast for July 1 is 33-million acre feet, 131% of normal, above Sioux City, and 30.1-million acre feet or 131% of normal above Gavins Point,” Stom says. “Compared to the June forecast, this is an increase of 1.9-million acre feet above Sioux City or 0.8-million acre feet above Gavins Point.”

With all of the heavy rain, Stom says run-off has increased in the past couple of months.

“June runoff was 8.3-million acre feet above Sioux City, or 153% of normal, and 1.2-million acre feet greater than forecast,” Stom says. “However, about 0.8-million acre feet of this additional runoff occurred in the Gavins Point to Sioux City reach as a result of the record flooding on the Big Sioux River.”

Corps engineer Alex Flanagan says there’s still plenty of water storage space in the upstream reservoirs.

“We have 60.6-million acre feet stored and this is 4.5-million acre feet above the top of the carryover and multiple use zone,” Flanagan says. “At this current storage level, 11.8-million acre feet of the 16.3-million acre feet total flood control storage is available to benefit flood risk reduction.”

Forecasters say precipitation across the Missouri River basin is expected to be above-normal for the next three months.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton