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Extreme Weather Expected After Historically Wet 2019

Flooding of a section of runway at Offutt Air Force Base caused planes and munitions to be moved to higher ground. (USAF)
Flooding of a section of runway at Offutt Air Force Base caused planes and munitions to be moved to higher ground. (USAF)
January 2, 2020

LINCOLN, Neb. - Nebraska farmers will not be surprised to hear that 2019 was one of the wettest on record, and Karin Gleason, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said all data indicate that extreme weather events such as last year's floods, along with periods of prolonged drought, are here to stay.

"There are certainly going to be costs associated with losses, or anticipated losses," she said. "There were some crops that didn't get planted until June. You have a shorter growing season that can put you at risk in the fall for early frosts or freezes."

Last year's flooding in Nebraska, which could be seen from space, resulted in damage costing more than $1.3 billion. In just the past 10 years, major flooding in the United States resulted in losses of at least $40 billion.

Gleason said extreme precipitation events are becoming heavier and more frequent. As global temperatures rise, she said, more water evaporates from the land and oceans, leading to stronger downpours which increase the likelihood of flooding.

Gleason and her colleagues at NOAA are monitoring changes in weather patterns and are making their data available for farmers. She said looking back at historical rainfall averages, days of drought and how those averages are changing can help farmers adjust their strategies and adapt, "and to understand, 'Do I need to anticipate in the future changing up my practices? Do I want to pick a different kind of crop? Will that yield a better harvest? Will that yield a better bottom line?' "

Both the Platte and Missouri rivers far exceeded their banks in 2019. The end of a runway at Offutt Air Force Base was under water, and the Omaha National Weather Service had to move to higher ground.

Gleason said the easiest way to tap NOAA's climate data is through its interactive tool, Climate at a Glance, which can be found online at ncdc.noaa.gov.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE