Thursday, August 29, 2013

Talking Drought

As we reach the end of a dry, and now hot, August, we’re reminded of how very close drought always is to states with a large agriculture sector. In fact, State Climatologist Dr. Jim Angel tweeted today that this is the driest August since 1893, and in Champaign County, we’ve only received 0.36 inches of rain. We normally get about four.

We’re not the only ones thinking about drought. Dr. Ximing Cai, who provided the impetus for our Drought Workshop, explains to me why he’s concerned about these drought cycles and what he hopes this fall’s workshop will accomplish.

So what inspired this workshop?
People are forgetting the 2012 Drought, although the damage was record-breaking. More attention is needed to prepare for a revisit of 2012 Drought. It is hard for any scientist to claim that his or her research helped with the drought damage reduction during the 2012 Drought, even though numerous scientists have been conducting drought-related research. Why? It seems that the research community does not really understand the needs of farmers and stakeholders for drought mitigation; meanwhile the latter may not understand the possible value of drought research. I hope this workshop can illustrate this gap and enhance the communication between research and practice.

How would you like to see the workshop used to address data needs and research gaps in Illinois?
Policy makers have been quiet and still keep a crisis management and business as usual [approach], i.e., depending on tactical measures and ignoring strategic ones. Which begs the question, should risk management implementation be given serious consideration? Research should provide support for shifting crisis management to combined risk and crisis management. I hope the workshop attendants, especially the stakeholder representatives, can share some specific opinions and suggestions to this issue, which is important for research, policy, and the public.

Why are you interested in drought in your own research?
I started drought research since I joined UIUC. My group has been studying how climate change might affect drought frequency, intensity, and duration using the state-of-art climate change prediction models. We further examined how meteorological drought propagates to hydrologic and agricultural drought. Following that, we address the question in terms of strategic measures for drought mitigation: should we do something now or should we wait and see? Specifically for Illinois, we find some changes that are unfavorable for the traditional rain-fed agriculture: precipitation declines in the crop growth season while increasing in the post- and prior seasons, along with increased temperature. A big question facing the agriculture community is: should large-scale irrigation be allowed to maintain the corn-belt or should we change the land from corn-belt to wheat-belt (which grows in winter-spring season)? More frequent drought visits will force the communities to make the choice now rather than “kick it down the road”. We need researchers, stakeholders, and policy makers to discuss the big decisions and their implications for additional research activities, policy changes, and practices.

Want to join in this discussion? Join us October 1, 2013 in Peoria, IL to discuss these questions and more at our Drought Workshop. To register or for more information, please see our blog post on this topic.