LINCOLN — Nebraska has some cards stacked against it when it comes to drought, researchers said at a recent international food and water conference in Lincoln.
That's no surprise to the state's farmers and ranchers. Every generation faces its share of drought, but climate change appears to be stacking the odds a little more in favor of drought in Nebraska, climate researchers said at the conference.
Mark Svoboda, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, said Nebraska is prone to drought for a couple of reasons:
• Its midcontinent location places it far from the moderating influences of a large body of water, and this tilts the odds toward extreme weather.
• The Rocky Mountains block moisture from West Coast storm systems. This is responsible for the state's semi-arid climate.
Climate change strengthens Nebraska's predisposition toward drought because:
• High-pressure systems. These set up conditions for drought, and they are developing a tendency to form in areas that contribute to drought in Nebraska, said Heidi Cullen, chief climatologist for Climate Central, a nonprofit climate/journalism center.
• More frequent and intense heat waves. Intense heat, something Nebraska experienced in 2012, dries out the ground, which, in turn, sends air temperatures up. Given the state's location in the middle of the vast Great Plains, there's a lot of land mass that can warm and reinforce high air temperatures. Cullen said the summer of 2003 that produced the deadly European heat wave will be considered cool by the end of the century.
• Warmer winters lead to longer growing seasons. Plants are drawing more water from the ground longer, including during what is typically the groundwater recharge season.
A warmer than normal winter in 2012 set the stage for that year's drought, Svoboda said.
The Water for Food Conference drew about 500 people to Lincoln. Its host was the University of Nebraska's Daugherty Water for Food Institute. Its chief sponsors were the Gates Foundation and Monsanto.