National Drought Mitigation Center


New research from the National Drought Mitigation Center

October 12, 2022

Climate models project that the Midwest will experience more periods of flash drought in the future, but relatively scant information and few resources are available to specialty crop growers in the area. Filling this gap is one area of research published by NDMC scientists in recent months. Warren County, KY. July 10, 2022. Photo submitted via CMOR


Several members of the National Drought Mitigation Center also serve as faculty within the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources. As PhD-level climatologists, sociologists and planners, they regularly publish peer-reviewed drought research in academic journals.

Here’s some of the research NDMC scientists have published in the past several months.


Meeting the drought information needs of Midwest perennial specialty crop producers (Haigh et al. 2022, Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology)

Climate models predict that in the future the Midwest should expect more intense storms, but also more frequent periods of flash drought, when extreme heat and dry weather conspire to produce rapid-onset drought conditions.

Drought early warning is a critical tool to increase the resilience of agriculture in light of these changing conditions; yet most existing resources are geared toward producers of commodity row crops like soybeans and corn. There is far less information available for producers of specialty crops like tree fruits and nuts, even though these operations are often the most vulnerable to extreme weather and the least able to cope with changing conditions. 

To improve their capacity to address climate risks like drought, specialty crop growers need monitoring and prediction tools tailored to their specific needs and concerns. To that end, Tonya Haigh, NDMC’s social science coordinator, and her colleagues have examined the unique decision-making needs and risks facing producers of apples, grapes and cranberries in the Midwest at different stages of the growing season. The researchers found that growers are concerned about both the short-term effects of drought on crop yields and quality as well as the longer-term impacts on future production. They also found that there are significant gaps in the availability of relevant information. As a first step to fill that gap, the team developed decision calendars specific to each crop to highlight the critical moments in which climate service providers should focus on developing resources for specialty crop producers.

This research was published in July in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology with collaborators from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the National Integrated Drought Information System, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Planning strategies and barriers to achieving local drought preparedness (Haigh et al. 2022, Journal of the American Planning Association)

Local governments play a critical role in helping communities prepare for, and respond to, climate extremes like drought. Planners are responsible for identifying and implementing appropriate, place-based strategies that mitigate the potentially devastating impact of those extremes.

Despite the value of drought mitigation planning for building capacity and increasing resilience, community-level drought planning is relatively rare. Instead, most drought planning efforts are done at the state-level. Where local drought planning does occur, it’s usually not a standalone effort, but part of water management, land use and hazard mitigation planning.

To better understand the current landscape of community-level drought planning, a team of researchers, led by the NDMC’s Tonya Haigh, set out to understand the perceptions of local planners to different drought mitigation strategies and the barriers they face in addressing drought. They distributed a survey to hundreds of American Planning Association members from around the country. The survey asked respondents about their experiences with drought planning, the threats facing their community and their capacity to respond to those threats, as well as the relationships between planners in their jurisdiction.

The researchers found that local land use plans are a potentially useful, though underutilized, venue for drought planning. They also found that few respondents were interested in, or in the process of, developing standalone drought plans. While funding didn’t appear to be a major challenge, the respondents identified several barriers to drought planning including political will, data availability and coordination, highlighting the importance of better communication between planners at different levels.

This research was published in July in the Journal of the American Planning Association with colleagues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including Cody Knutson, the NDMC’s planning coordinator.

-- Leah Campbell, NDMC Communications