Repercussions of the 2012 drought are set to challenge the 2013 growing season. The Corn Belt is especially vulnerable.

“Yes, it could be worse but we’ve seen changes in our vulnerability to drought,” said Mark Svoboda, University of Nebraska-based climatologistwith the National Drought Mitigation Center.“There are more straws in the drink putting more demand on a finite water resource.”

Svoboda spoke at the March “Too Hot, Too Wet, Too Dry: Building Resilient Agroecosystems” conference sponsored by the Global Harvest Initiative, which largely focused on global water-use trends and food needs going into the future with a burgeoning world population.

“(We’re here) to talk about perhaps the greatest challenge of our time when we think about the sustainability of resources to meet a growing demand for food around the world,” said moderator Ronnie Green, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska vice chancellor. “As we move out over the next several decades, (there will be) as additional two billion people in our population on the planet.

“Think about the resources that will be required to meet a growing food need and a growing quality of food need around the world. We certainly have challenges ahead.”

Green continued: “What has the 2013 drought meant? What does it look like currently? How are we looking at the out years ahead of us – not only in terms of the ongoing nature of potential drought but also the recovery and what it will mean for agriculture…

“Where I come from, Nebraska, we’ve been dead center in the drought. The state has a higher percentage of landmass in the state (in ‘exceptional’ and ‘severe’ drought categories) than any other state in the United States. It’s had a huge impact on us.”

Drought, Svoboda reminded, is a normal part of the climate cycle. He compared the 2012 drought with those in the 1930s and 1950s. “The one difference between them (and now) is those were single spikes (of drought). We’ve had three to five spikes over the last five years.

 

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“The Missouri Basin is the largest drainage basin in the country. Drought goes in cycles hydrologically-speaking just as it does for agriculture for those relying on rivers for navigation, for transport of goods, for irrigation. It was really interesting to look at 2011 right before the drought of 2012 when we had record-high run-off into the Missouri Basin and record flooding. The very next year: record-low inflow and severe drought throughout.”

Not only was 2012 a terrible drought year for the United States, it was also the hottest year on record – going back to 1895.

2012 “only came in as the fifteenth driest year if you look at the big picture,” said Svoboda. “But that’s only if you don’t zoom in and look at some of the individual state numbers.”

Zooming in, Svoboda said 19 states had record warm years. Two states, Nebraska and Wyoming, had their hottest and driest years on record. “That isn’t a combination you want to see.”