November 25, 2014

Natural gas prices may rise “a twitch” this winter

Propane TankWith memories of last winter’s cold blast, some of Nebraska’s natural gas suppliers are looking for what they’re calling insurance. Clyde Gross is the senior gas manager for Northwestern Energy.

“We’re 70% locked in through our traditional ways of locking in,” Gross says. “Because of a scar we have from last winter, not near the big scar the propane guys had last winter, we’ve layered in an extra tier of December, January, February to further protect our customers from the price volatility we saw last year.”

Gross says it looks like natural gas prices will be up slightly this coming winter.

“Probably a nickel a therm,” Gross says. “Most of them use about 600 therms through the winter so that’s (an increase of) about $30 through the course of the winter. The customers, at least in my house, we used more therms than we normally used because it was colder, but the price is going to be just up a twitch.”

Northwestern serves the central Nebraska cities of Grand Island, Kearney and North Platte.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Have your furnace inspected now, before winter winds howl

Many Nebraskans are already turning up the heat on their thermostats but autumn is a good time to have an expert look over your furnace before winter arrives.

Merl Scott, a mechanical inspector, says it’s crucial to have your system checked out every year.

Scott says, “Most of us have gas furnaces so we’d want to make sure that the gas supply system to your furnace and the delivery of the gas into the burners is all happening correctly and has the proper safety mechanisms hooked to it.”

Neglecting your furnace and air conditioning system can lead to both health and safety issues, including fire.

Scott says homeowners should always be observant of their air-handling systems.

“Most people are used to what their furnace system sounds like when it comes on and goes off and if you start hearing something different, that would be something you’d want to have checked out,” Scott says, “or if you start smelling gas or any kind of fumes.”

Scott recommends changing the air filters monthly and keeping items in storage at least three feet away from your furnace and water heater.

Water levels will remain high on the Missouri River to prep for ’15

Gavins Point Dam

Gavins Point Dam

The Missouri River will see continued high levels over the coming weeks as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares for next year by maintaining above-normal releases from Gavins Point Dam.

Jody Farhat, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division in Omaha, says maintaining the increased releases now will help lower the risk of flooding next season.

“We’ve had a fairly high runoff into the reservoirs for most of the summer, really peaking in August when we had our second wettest August on record,” Farhat says. “As a result, we’ve increased the releases out of Gavins Point with the goal of evacuating all the water that’s stored in the flood control pools by the start of next year’s runoff season.”

Along with flood control, Farhat says excess water will extend the navigation season.

“The higher releases that we have now will provide an additional three or four feet in the river, which will help navigation here in this latter part of this season,” Farhat says. “We are also providing an extension of the navigation service, an additional ten days, so it’ll end on December 10th at the mouth near St. Louis.”

She says it will also mean an increase in hydropower generation.

Farhat says the Corps is holding public meetings on October 28th in Pierre, South Dakota, and on October 29th in Council Bluffs for people who are interested in the water management operations.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Climate change authors say debate is over, time to prepare

One of the lead authors of a new University of Nebraska-Lincoln report on climate change says Nebraska farmers and ranchers will face significant weather-related challenges in the coming decades.

Climate scientist Don Wilhite says average temperatures will continue to rise with a substantial increase in high-temperature stress days over 100 degrees. And while average annual precipitation may not change much, Wilhite says severe storms and floods will be more common. He forecasts more downpours, more run-off, and less penetration in the soil.

“So, with the increasing temperatures you’re looking at declines in the future in soil moisture content, which is obviously important to agriculture,” Wilhite tells Ken Anderson with Brownfield Ag News.

Wilhite says while farmers have been able to adapt to recent changes in climate, increased innovation will be needed to keep pace with changes that are coming.

“The sooner they sort of adapt to this situation and incorporate these changes in their management strategies, the more effective they’re going to be,” according to Wilhite.

Wilhite says there’s no question human activities are having a detrimental impact on our climate.

“People need to become better educated about this issue and stop denying it exists and start learning about these changes and then what, not only they should do individually, but what we need do as a country and as a state and what we should expect out of our elected officials,” Wilhite says. “Because a lot of our elected officials are essentially denying that this even occurs.”

Another one of the authors gives a perspective attempting to bridge the divergent views on climate change.

UNL professor of climate modeling Bob Oglesby agrees, in part, with those who disagree humans change the climate.

“Humans don’t cause climate change. I say that in the context, climate always changes anyway. It’s always changed in the past. It’s going to change in the future, due to natural reasons,” Oglesby says. “That said, human activities are strongly affecting the way climate is changing at this time. Furthermore, we’re making the climate change much more rapidly than it typically does due to natural processes.”

The authors of the report say it is time to end the debate on climate change and start to prepare for it and to try to mitigate it.

Ken Anderson with Brownfield Ag News contributed to this report.

UNL study concludes climate change effects could be dramatic for state

Dramatic effects of climate change could be ahead for the state, according to a new University of Nebraska-Lincoln climate study.

One of the lead authors, Dr. Don Wilhite with the UNL School of Natural Resources and founder of the National Drought Mitigation Center, indicates that predicted temperature changes of four to nine degrees by the end of the century would have a large impact on agriculture–both in Nebraska and worldwide.

“It will make a big difference. Not only in terms of temperature increase, but in the increase in the number of days of over 100 degree days,” Wilhite says. “Days over 100 degrees put a lot of stress on crops, stress on livestock, and a lot on humans.”

Dr. Wilhite adds they see the possibilities of more drought. Dr. Wilhite says the human factor in all of this is significant with greenhouse gases and their concentration in the atmosphere.

“The natural forces in our climate are things that occur over periods of thousands of years, where as the types of changes that we’re facing in the next 70 to 100 years are largely due to the increase in greenhouse gases,” Wilhite notes.

UNL officials compiled an independent study after refusing to participate in a legislative proposed study that prevented looking at the influence of humans on the environment.