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State Climate Summaries

NEBRASKA

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NEBRASKA

 

Figure 1

Observed and Projected Temperature Change

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Observed and projected changes (compared to the 1901–1960 average) in near-surface air temperature for Nebraska. Observed data are for 1900–2014. Projected changes for 2006–2100 are from global climate models for two possible futures: one in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase (higher emissions) and another in which greenhouse has emissions increase at a slower rate (lower emissions). Temperatures in Nebraska (orange line) have risen about 1°F since the beginning of the 20th century. Shading indicates the range of annual temperatures from the set of models. Observed temperatures are generally within the envelope of model simulations of the historical period (gray shading). Historically unprecedented warming is projected during the 21st century. Less warming is expected under a lower emissions future (the coldest years being about as warm as the warmest years in the historical record; green shading) and more warming under a higher emissions future (the hottest years being about 11°F warmer than the hottest year in the historical record; red shading). Source: CICS-NC/NOAA NCEI.

Nebraska lies in the central Great Plains, straddling the east-to-west transition from relatively abundant precipitation (averaging over 34 inches annually at Falls City) in the far southeast to semi-arid conditions (averaging 17 inches at Harrison) in the panhandle. The state is far from the moderating effects of oceans and experiences warm to hot summers and cold winters. Temperatures vary widely across seasons, averaging 22.1°F in January and 74.5°F in July. The hottest year on record was 2012, with an average temperature of 52.7°F, 4.3°F higher than the long-term average.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, temperatures in Nebraska have risen approximately 1°F (Figure 1). Temperatures in the 2000s have been warmer than the long-term average and comparable to the previous record warmest period of the early 1930s Dust Bowl era, when drought and poor land management likely exacerbated the hot summer temperatures. The recent warming has been concentrated in the winter and spring while summers have not warmed substantially in the state, a characteristic of much of the Great Plains and Midwest (Figure 2). This is reflected in a below average occurrence of extremely hot days (Figure 3a) and no overall trend in the number of warm nights (Figure 3b) since the 1960s. The winter warming trend is reflected in a below average number of very cold nights since 1990 (Figure 4).

Figure 2

Figure 2a

 

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Figure 2b

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Figure 2: The observed average winter and summer temperature for 1895–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from NCEI's version 2 climate division dataset. The dark horizontal lines represent the long-term average. From 1995 to 2004, Nebraska experienced the warmest winter temperatures in the historical record. Since 2000, summer temperatures have been above average, although they have remained below the extreme heat of the 1930s Dust Bowl era. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Figure 3

Figure 3a

 

3a

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Figure 3b

 

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Figure 3c

 

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Figure 3d

 

3d

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Figure 3: The observed number of (a) extremely hot days (annual number of days with maximum temperature above 100°F), (b) warm nights (annual number of days with minimum temperature above 70°F), (c) annual precipitation, and (d) summer precipitation, averaged over 5-year periods. The values in Figures 3a and 3b are averages from 39 long-term temperature reporting stations. The values in Figures 3c and 3d are from NCEI's version 2 climate division dataset. The dark horizontal lines represent the long-term average. The state has consistently experienced a near to below average number of hot days in the 2000s, and a near average number of warm nights. Annual precipitation varies widely, however, during the most recent 10-year period (2005–2014) Nebraska experienced slightly above average precipitation both annually and during the summer months. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Precipitation is highly variable from year to year, with the statewide annual average ranging from a low of 13.36 inches in 2012 to a high of 35.50 inches in 1915. The driest multi-year period was in the 1930s, and the wettest in the 1900s and late 2000s (Figure 3c). The driest 5-yr period was 1936–1940 and the wettest was 2007–2011. The majority of precipitation falls during the spring and summer months, but seasonal precipitation varies widely (Figure 3d).

Agriculture is a vital component of Nebraska’s economy, and the state is particularly vulnerable to both high and low extreme precipitation. The frequency of heavy rain events has increased in recent years, with Nebraska experiencing an above average number of 2-inch rain events over the last decade (Figure 5). Nebraska also experiences periodic episodes of severe drought, which can sometimes last for several years. One of the worst droughts in the state’s history was the 1930s drought of the Dust Bowl era, when the impacts of the dry conditions were exacerbated by extreme heat. Nebraska’s hottest summers on record occurred in 1934 and 1936; they were also among the top four driest summers (1934—fourth, 1936—second). Conditions in July 1936 were particularly extreme, with Omaha experiencing 16 days with temperatures above 100°F and one day with temperatures exceeding 110°F. This combination of heat and dryness, along with the close temporal proximity of these two extreme summers and exacerbated by poor land management practices, is unique in the record and contributed to the severe impacts of the Dust Bowl era. Nebraska’s driest year on record, however, was 2012. Statewide precipitation averaged only 3.74 inches during the summer months, well below the historical average of 9.42 inches. By the end of September, over 75% of the state was experiencing exceptional drought conditions. The drought, combined with the extreme summer heat, had significant negative impacts on non-irrigated crop yields and pasture conditions, and the state did not see substantial relief from drought conditions for months. 

 

Observed Number of Very Cold Nights

Observed Number of Very Cold Nights

Figure 4: The observed number of very cold nights (annual number of days with minimum temperature below 0°F) for 1900–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from 39 long-term reporting stations. The highest number occurred in the late 1910s. Since the 1990s, Nebraska has experienced a below average number of very cold days, indicative of overall winter warming. The dark horizontal line is the long-term average (1900–2014) of nearly 15 days per year. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

 
 

Observed Number of Extreme Precipitation Events

Observed Number of Extreme Precipitation Events

Figure 5: The observed number of extreme precipitation events (annual number of days with precipitation greater than 2 inches) for 1900–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from 60 long-term reporting stations. In the historical record, the largest number of heavy precipitation events occurred from 1900 to 1904, with an average of 1.5 events per year per station, followed by 2005–2009, with an average of 1.3 events annually. The dark horizontal line is the long-term average (1900–2014) of 0.9 days per year per station. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Thousands of miles of rivers flow through Nebraska, and the state is bordered by the Missouri River to the east. With many cities and farmlands located along these waterways, flooding from both heavy precipitation and snowmelt can cause problems in the state. In the summer of 1993, heavy rains throughout the central U.S. caused record flooding along the Missouri (and Mississippi) River. For the three-month period of June–August, Nebraska precipitation totaled 16.77 inches on average statewide, more than 7 inches above the long-term summer average. The flooding caused millions of dollars in damages to crops and infrastructure. In June 2011, runoff from the record winter snowpack in the Rocky Mountains along with heavy rains, particularly in the upper Missouri River basin, caused major flooding along the entire length of the Missouri River. In Omaha, the river crested at 36.29 feet on July 2, 2011.

Nebraska experiences damaging storms during all seasons. During the winter months, snowstorms and ice storms are a frequent hazard. Western Nebraska, along with the Dakotas, has the highest probability of blizzards in the nation, with a greater than 50% probability of a blizzard occurring in any given year. For example, during December 23–27, 2009, a storm produced heavy snowfall in the eastern part of the state, with some long-term stations reporting snow depths in excess of 20 inches. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph on December 25th reduced visibility and produced whiteout conditions. Convective storms are common in the warmer months, including flash flood-producing rainstorms and severe thunderstorms capable of producing hail, damaging winds, and tornadoes. The southwestern part of the Nebraska Panhandle lies in “Hail Alley,” the most hail prone area in the entire country, and averages 7–9 hail days each year. Nebraska averages 57 tornadoes annually—the fifth highest number of any state—and these tornadoes can be violent. On May 6, 1975, an F4 tornado struck Omaha, killing three people and causing damages of over $1 billion. On June 16, 2014, a supercell thunderstorm produced four EF4 tornadoes (including a set of rare “twin tornadoes”) in the northeastern part of the state, killing two and destroying large portions of the town of Pilger.

Under a higher emissions pathway, historically unprecedented warming is projected by the end of the 21st century (Figure 1). Even under a pathway of lower greenhouse gas emissions, average annual temperatures are projected to most likely exceed historical record levels by the middle of the 21st century. However, there is a large range of temperature increases under both pathways, and under the lower pathway, a few projections are only slightly warmer than historical records. Increases in heat wave intensity are projected, but the intensity of cold waves is projected to decrease.

Although projections of overall annual precipitation are uncertain, winter and spring precipitation is projected to increase across the state (Figure 6). Heavier winter precipitation could have both positive and negative effects on Nebraska’s important agricultural economy, improving soil moisture for winter wheat but potentially delaying planting for summer crops. Heavy precipitation events are also projected to increase, leading to increased runoff and flooding which can reduce water quality and erode soils.

The intensity of droughts is projected to increase. Although projections of overall precipitation are uncertain, and droughts are a natural part of the climate system, higher temperatures will increase evaporation rates and decrease soil moisture, leading to more intense future droughts. This would have negative impacts on dryland farming, although the impacts could be mitigated where irrigation is possible.

 

Projected Change in Winter Precipitation

Projected Change in Winter Precipitation

Figure 6: Projected changes in winter precipitation (%) for the middle of the 21st century compared to the late 20th century under a higher emissions pathway. Winter precipitation is projected to increase by 10% or more. Nebraska is part of a large area across the northern and central United States with projected increases in winter precipitation. Source: CICS-NC, NOAA NCEI, and NEMAC.

Lead Authors:
Rebekah Frankson, Kenneth E. Kunkel
Contributing Authors:
Laura Stevens, Martha Shulski
Recommended Citation:
Frankson, R., K. Kunkel, L. Stevens and M. Shulski, 2017: Nebraska State Climate Summary. NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 149-NE, 4 pp.

Resources

  1. Kunkel, K.E, L.E. Stevens, S.E. Stevens, L. Sun, E. Janssen, D. Wuebbles, M.C. Kruk, D.P. Thomas, M. Shulski, N. Umphlett, K. Hubbard, K. Robbins, L. Romolo, A. Akyuz, T. Pathak, T. Bergantino, and J.G. Dobson, 2013: Regional Climate Trends and Scenarios for the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Part 4. Climate of the U.S. Great Plains, NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 142-4, 82 pp. [Available online at https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/content/technical-reports]
  2. Maximuk, L.P. and V.L. Nadolski, 2012: Service Assessment: The Missouri/Souris River Floods of May — August 2011, Department of Commerce. [Available online at http://www.weather.gov/media/publications/assessments/Missouri_floods11.pdf]
  3. Midwestern Regional Climate Center, cited 2016: “(1981-2010) Maps of gridded data long-term averages; Average Temp — Nebraska.” [Available online at http://mrcc.isws.illinois.edu/CLIMATE/]
  4. NDMC, cited 2016: Drought in the dust bowl years, National Drought Mitigation Center. [Available online at http://drought.unl.edu/droughtbasics/dustbowl/droughtinthedustbowlyears.aspx]
  5. NOAA, 2010: Valley weather wind, National Weather Service Omaha/Valley, Nebraska, Newsletter, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/Image/oax/news/newsletter_May10.pdf]
  6. NOAA, cited 2016: Christmas 2009 blizzard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at http://www.weather.gov/gid/blizzard_recap]
  7. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate at a Glance: U.S. Time Series, published October 2016, retrieved on October 18, 2016, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. [Available online at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/]
  8. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate of Nebraska, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climatenormals/clim60/states/Clim_NE_01.pdf]
  9. NOAA, cited 2016: State of the Climate: Tornadoes for June 2014, published online July 2014, retrieved on December 22, 2016, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. [Available online at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/tornadoes/201406]
  10. NOAA, cited 2016: The 10 costliest U.S. tornadoes since 1950, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Storm Prediction Center. [Available online at http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/damage$.htm]
  11. NOAA, cited 2016: Top 5 Nebraska floods, Republican River flood of 1935, submitted by David Pearson, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at http://www.weather.gov/media/gld/1935flood/pdf/Top5NebraskaFloods_for_HQ.pdf]
  12. NOAA, cited 2016: U.S. Tornado Climatology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-information/extreme-events/us-tornado-climatology]
  13. NSSL, cited 2016: Severe weather 101: Hail basics, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Severe Storms Laboratory. [Available online at http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/hail/]
  14. Schwartz, R. M., and T. W. Schmidlin, 2002: Climatology of blizzards in the conterminous United States, 1959-2000. J. Climate, 15, 1765-1772.
  15. United States Drought Monitor, cited 2016: Maps and Data. [Available online at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/MapsAndData.aspx]
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