2012 is Nebraska’s hottest year on record so far


June 6th, 2012

Lincoln, NE – A warm winter and spring have jumpstarted businesses and crop growth, but also raised concerns about a hot, dry summer. So far, this is the hottest year ever recorded in Nebraska. But what does it mean for agriculture in the state or even road construction?

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On a warm morning recently, Ken Svoboda of Ray’s Lawn and Home Care in Lincoln was showing Andrew Baehr where to put a load of landscaping rock. Nearby, Maurice Bozeman was breaking up some soil. As Baehr scooped and Bozeman shoveled, Svoboda reflected on what the warm weather has meant to his business.

Maurice Bozeman, left, and Andrew Baehr work on transplanting a tree for Ray's Lawn and Home Care. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

“It has really helped us in kind of kickstarting the season a little bit more, especially coming into what we thought might be a little bit of a slow economy this year. And that has not proven to be the case, and I think a lot of that had to do with the early weather that we had,” he said.

Meteorologist Mike Moritz with the National Weather Service in Hastings said figures confirm the weather has been unusual. “Essentially it has been the warmest start to any calendar year since records have been kept, which in out in our part of the country is about 1895,” he said.

(Click here for a list of average temperatures in cities across Nebraska so far this year.)

Moritz said that’s affected agriculture. “One of the things that we’ve seen out in central Nebraska is the use of irrigation and farmers running their pivots much earlier than usual. We haven’t seen this kind of spring pivot use in seven or eight years when we were coming out of a significant drought 10 to 12 years ago,” he said.

Nebraska Public Power District spokesman Mark Becker said a temperature bump increased demand for electricity in mid-May. “There were obviously some warmer days during that period and we did notice visually a lot more pivots being operated during that time. So we did see about an additional 150 megawatts being used on our system,” said Becker.

That’s about a 10 percent increase over the normal load. And while it’s still far short of NPPD’s capacity, Becker said hot, dry weather this summer could cause utilities to ask farmers to delay irrigating until nighttime, after peak hours of retail demand for air conditioning.

The weather has also speeded up this year’s crop of insects. Jeff Bradshaw, an entomologist at the University of Nebraska’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, said they’re about two weeks ahead of schedule. He’s watching to see how those early-developing insects interact with crops. And he said he’s also concerned about dry conditions in western Nebraska. “I’ll be keeping my eye out on later season grasshopper populations,” Bradshaws said. “If we don’t get some moisture at some point, the crops particularly in rain-fed or dryland areas, are already going to be stressed if they don’t get the moisture they need. Grasshoppers are just going to add to that.”

Overall, though, Bradshaw said grasshopper populations are cyclical, and he thinks they’re declining. And while the early heat has speeded up the development of mosquitos as well, how bad that infestation becomes will largely be determined by future conditions.

At the Lincoln office of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Dan Steinkruger echoed Bradshaw’s concern about the possible combination of heat and dry conditions. “We have had some great crops the last five to six years. We haven’t had widespread drought conditions in the state for about 10 years,” Steinkruger said. “I think there’s a lot of nervous farmers and individuals involved in agriculture that (fear) we’re cycling back into drier years that everybody has dealt with in the past.”

(See the latest Nebraska Weather and Crops report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.)

But Moritz said it’s too early for accurate predictions about that. “When you get past say mid-July, the outlooks are really pretty much for equal chances of above, below, or near-normal precipitation and temperatures,” he said. The first part of the summer we expect this warmer trend to continue through at least June, maybe into early July.”

The weather’s also affected road construction activity, according to Mary Jo Oie, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Roads. “Most of our work is a couple weeks ahead of schedule all the way across and around the state,” she said.

Oie added that doesn’t mean the department will try to do more construction projects this year. “The funding is already set, and then also there is a set amount of labor and construction and contractors. So basically we would just finish early, and it’s not too usual we end up with any extra money left over to pull a project forward,” she said.

Svoboda said he thinks the early boost for his lawn-service business will simply change the timing of his cash flow, but it could result in more business overall. As with so much else about this year’s usual weather, the full effects won’t be known for a while, he said.

Moritz agreed, from a meteorological point of view. “This record in progress – and it’s early – is pretty interesting numbers, and it’s going to be kind of cool, so to speak, to see how it plays out for the rest of the year,” he said.

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