Land managers throughout the greater Northern Plains face greater risks associated with increasing weather variability, extreme weather events, and a changing climate. For example, major flooding throughout the Upper Missouri River Basin in 2011 was followed by severe drought in 2012 (NCA4, 2018) – a pattern repeated in 2019 and 2020. Four of the top 10 driest years on record in Wyoming occurred in the 21st century. Wyoming’s driest year on record was 2012, while 2020 was the fifth driest year, and 2001 and 2002 were the seventh and eighth driest years (respectively) out of 126 years (NOAA, 2021). This year, 2021, is still unfolding; however, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released January 7, over 95 percent of Wyoming was classified as experiencing Abnormally Dry to Exceptional Drought – a percentage that remains relatively unchanged six months later, as shown in the July 8 map (USDM, 2021).
Variability in weather, including extreme events, is nothing new for Wyoming; however, researchers expect this variability to increase and extreme events to become even more extreme – not only globally, but regionally and locally.
Recognizing that working lands are the backbone of our nation – providing food, fiber, fuel, and countless ecosystem services – the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) took action in 2014 to establish what is today a network of 10 Regional Climate Hubs. The Climate Hubs serve as regional climate innovation centers that provide climate information for agriculture and forestry with the intent of creating healthy agricultural production and natural resources under increasing weather variability and a changing climate.
The University of Wyoming Extension (UWE) has hosted the Regional Extension Program Coordinator of the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub (NPCH) since April 2015. The NPCH is a six‑state region, which includes those in the Western and North Central Extension regions. Through a cooperative agreement between USDA and UW, the NPCH coordinator also serves as the Weather Variability and Agricultural Resiliency Specialist for UWE. This win‑win partnership between UWE and USDA has generated a myriad of outputs benefitting UWE stakeholders—the people of Wyoming. It has provided professional development opportunities for UWE professionals (for example, building climate literacy), and also expanded the network and resources available to faculty members and students at the University of Wyoming in addition to other direct and indirect benefits.
To learn more about the positive impacts of this program, see the full report at https://bit.ly/uwe-climate-hub.