National Drought Mitigation Center helps states prepare for drought

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 7:06 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A record setting drought has its grip on much of the western U.S. on Monday. About 27% of the region is in what the U.S. Drought Monitor calls “exceptional drought.” And while most of Nebraska is fairing okay, when drought hits the U.S. many look to Nebraska experts.

The U.S. Drought Monitor was created in Lincoln. It’s a part of the National Drought Mitigation Center, and takes data from all across each state from numerous resources and compiles them to make a map that many statues use to determine their next step during a drought crisis.

The nationwide resource is compiled in a corner office on East Campus and has been since 1999, four years after the Mitigation Center was created.

“Monitoring and early warning to see when it’s coming, you can’t see it on satellite like a hurricane,” said Dr. Mark Svoboda, Director at the National Drought Mitigation Center. “It takes a diligent approach to monitor drought, you’re in the long game when it comes to drought.”

Every Tuesday, staff at the National Drought Mitigation Center collects and plots data to create maps. Dark brown areas of the map in the western part of the country are in exceptional drought.

“The only thing worse than exceptional drought, is exceptional drought that lasts another year,” said Dr. Svoboda.

The map is a communication tool to help plan for what Dr. Svoboda calls a sneaky crisis.

“Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes have small footprints, they don’t last very long,” said Dr. Svoboda. “Droughts can last several weeks, months, even years.”

Not only does the Mitigation Center create the map, they’ve also worked with states and countries across the world to create drought policy and emergency plans.

“When the center was first started, we had three states that had drought plans,” said Dr. Svoboda. “Now we have 47 states.”

Svoboda said the current drought crisis in the west stems from not having enough water to support a growing population.

“Over 20 M people depend on the water that comes out of that system,” said Dr. Svoboda. “There’s no more coming into the system. The demand is still there, and then when you turn up temperatures in summer and the demand skyrockets, you don’t have the same amount of water you need to make everyone happy.

Dr. Svoboda said for these areas, like Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada, that are in exceptional drought, it’s going to take more than a good rain to really recover. He said winter precipitation really determines how these areas will recover, or if the drought cases will become worse.

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