Climatologist: Warm, Dry Winter Sets Stage for Summer Drought

Feb. 14, 2022, 3 p.m. ·

Clouds and sun over a field with a dusting of snow on it. A wire fence is the foreground and a road is off to the side.
A Nebraska farm field with a dusting of snow. (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

One year ago Monday, parts of Nebraska were about 90 degrees colder.

Nebraska saw temperatures dip to -30 degrees in the middle of February 2021, when a deadly cold snap affected the middle of the country. This week, some parts of the state are expected to hit 60 degrees.

Ken Dewey, a retired applied climatologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said this year, Nebraska is facing a different concerning trend.

"The biggest thing going on in our climate this winter, is not really the temperatures, although it is averaging warmer than normal," Dewey said. "The big difference is the total lack of snow, and we are sitting at the least amount of snow for any winter."

The warmer weather may feel better in February, especially compared to one year ago, but its effects felt so far aren't a promising horizon for the rest of the year.

"If this persists, it will be a warm and dry spring, which is good to get into the farm field but bad if we don't have enough water for the winter wheat to survive and have the spring planting survive as well," Dewey said.

There's still plenty of winter left to go, but Dewey said if dry weather overstays its welcome, it could mean a rough summer, especially for farmers.

"There is concern we don't want to go into the growing season with agriculture being a big, important part of our economy with no sign that we are going into a wet spell," Dewey said.

"Dry spells have always been devastating on agriculture in the state of Nebraska."

There are other worries on the minds of climatologists, too, Dewey said.

"The winter wheat has been exposed all winter without a snow cover. That desiccates the winter wheat, and it destroys it."

That joins other concerns Dewey shared, such as dropping reservoir levels and less snowfall currently in the Rockies. That would reduce water flow later this year into the Platte River.

Dewey said our dry spell will at hold on for at least another few weeks.

He said the rest of February looks similar to the first half of the month: above-average temperatures and brief cold fronts. The only future promise of precipitation, so far, will mostly miss us, once again, and target areas south of Nebraska.