October 31, 2014

Study: Climate change is making some Nebraska bird species scarce

Long-billed curlew

Long-billed curlew

A study by an environmental group is analyzing the vulnerability to climate change of more than 500 species of birds across the Midwest. The Environmental Defense Fund is working with teams of biologists in Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa.

Alicia Hardin, an administrator in the wildlife division of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, says some birds are becoming more scarce across the region.

Hardin says, “We have seen quite a decline in some of our grassland species, especially birds that really depend on larger blocks of grassland.”

The report is finding between one-fifth and one-third of the bird species across the three states are vulnerable to climate change and some of them are beginning to thin in numbers.

“Some of those species would be the greater prairie chicken, another one would be the Henslow sparrow,” Hardin says. “There’s also the long-billed cerlew which is a really unique looking bird. It also really enjoys bigger blocks of grassland.”

Farmers and ranchers can take pro-active steps to keep species off the endangered list, or to keep them from sliding further into decline. Hardin says many ag producers are already taking those important steps.

“Maybe some of the areas that are on borders or buffers, we would look to see if there’s a way we can take that out of cropland production because maybe it’s not as productive as far as inputs and what they get out of it,” Hardin says. “Instead, maybe put it into perennial vegetation like grasses that might be more appealing to some of these grassland birds.”

Officials with the Environmental Defense Fund say strong, positive incentives are needed for farmers and ranchers to manage and restore habitat in ways that can help offset the ecological and agricultural impact of drought and floods. It can include restoring wetlands, floodplains and grasslands, the use of cover crops, no-till agriculture, and buffers to provide shade and improve water quality.

In other parts of the country, the IDF is developing “habitat exchanges” to help farmers earn revenue for growing wildlife habitat alongside crops and improving drought conditions.






Almanac: Winter of 2015 will be bitter cold, snowy

Snowplow3Nebraskans could be in for a rough winter.

The 2015 Old Farmers Almanac is out with its recipes, charts for ocean tides and, of course, predictions about the weather.

Bob Farmer, one of the contributors to the annual publication, says there’s a particularly challenging winter ahead for the Midwest.

“For winter 2015, the prediction is ‘bitter and snowy’ which I think is about the worst prediction of any section of the country,” Farmer says.

The Old Farmers Almanac was first published in 1792 and its weather predictions are based, in part, on a “secret formula” devised by the Almanac’s founder.

Farmer says the updated formula takes into account temperature and precipitation records for the past 30 years, but also measures sunspot activity.

“The backbone of the Almanac is two-fold,” Farmer says. “It’s weather and astronomy and, you know, when the eclipses are and so forth and then of course lots of interesting stories in the middle and trivia and the best days to do certain things.”

The Almanac has suggestions for the best days to go fishing and which dates are best to plant the garden, advice based on phases of the moon.


Possible tornado rips up farms in SE Nebraska

A team from the National Weather Service is examining storm damage in southeast Nebraska’s Otoe County, trying to determine if it was caused by a tornado on Tuesday afternoon.

Otoe County emergency management coordinator Gregg Goebel says the severe weather started at about 4:30 P-M and some damage was done south of Nebraska City, near the towns of Paul and Lorton.

“We had a couple of farmsteads that took structural damage, building damage, corn cribs, sheds, shingles on roofs, a lot of crops were laid down, corn and beans, trees down in that area,” he says. While there were no reports of a tornado, several spotters were in the area. Very heavy rain was falling, leading to the possibility there was a rain-wrapped tornado.

He says weather service experts will be examining the damage.

“They’re going to the reported sites and driving the damage path area and doing their assessment,” he says.

There were no reports of injuries. The storms brought heavy rain, high winds, flash flooding and hail.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice


Severe storms a possibility for eastern Nebraska

Round one of rain moved through eastern Nebraska just before noon today as predicted. Now get ready for round two. National Weather Service – Valley Meteorologist Cathy Zapotocny says there is a stronger warm front to the south and that will have more dynamics including deep moisture and upper level support. While it is too early to predict the strength of storms and pin-point locations it is a good idea to be prepared.

Zapotocny says these storms could bring hail, heavy rain, strong wind and the possibility of a tornado.   She says Nebraskans are used to severe weather in May and June but we have a secondary peak in September but typically it is not as common.

There is a chance of lingering rain through Wednesday morning. You will need a light coat or sweater tomorrow. Temperatures will be about 20-degrees cooler than today.

Corps of Engineers offers more detail about rising Missouri River

This is what the Corps is hoping to avoid on the Missouri River.

This is what the Corps is hoping to avoid on the Missouri River.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are now offering more details about how high the Missouri River will rise over the next few months.

Releases are being increased from the four lower dams on the Missouri following heavy rains in August in an effort to cut flood risks. Jody Farhat is chief of the Water Management Division in the Omaha office of the Corps.

“Our latest forecast indicates higher releases from the main stem reservoirs this fall in order to prepare the reservoir system for 2015, thus, reducing future flood risk potential,” Farhat says. “The higher releases will raise river levels along the lower river on average three to four feet above the level seen for most of the summer but will be well within the channel unless we experience a significant amount of rain.”

Farhat says they can cut back on those releases if there’s more heavy rain.

“If that should occur, releases may be reduced temporarily as part of our normal flood risk reduction measures and the reservoir system remains well positioned for this type of operation,” Farhat says. “We’ll continue to monitor the conditions across the basin as we move through fall and we’ll continue to make any necessary release adjustments.”

Farhat says releases from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton will be stepped up from the current release rate of 38,000 cubic feet per second to beyond 45,000 during the next several days and they’ll remain near that level throughout the fall.

“If you look back through our records, in about 25% of the years we’ve had releases above 40,000 in the fall,” she says. “It’s actually a very good time of year to evacuate flood water from the reservoir system. We do it routinely. We wait until the fall months and then we evacuate most of the water before the 1st of December.”

The excess water will also allow the Corps to extend the navigation season ten days and provide higher winter releases, which Farhat says will benefit winter hydropower generation and reduce risks to water intakes during periods of ice formation this winter.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton