The climate is variable and changing. It always has been and always will be. However, since the late 1980s, meteorologists have observed that climate variability has been increasing.
Rainfall comes more frequently in larger bursts, nights are staying warmer, and the growing season is becoming longer. Some of these changes have been for the better, such as a longer growing season, but more intense rain and severe droughts could threaten southern U.S. agricultural production.
To address this potential threat, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack established seven regional climate hubs to increase the resilience of range, forest, and agricultural lands to climate variability. As director of the Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH), I oversee the collaboration of USDA agencies including the Forest Service, Agricultural Research Service, and Natural Conservation Resource Service with state Extension agents and private consultants to promote management practices that will improve the productivity of working lands regardless of climate variability.
Some climate variability is due to individual large storms – such as the recent two-week-long rain event that dumped over 20 inches of precipitation across parts of the Carolinas – while others are associated with longer-term weather patterns (such as the currently developing El Nino). Throughout the winter months, the Southeast is likely to experience the weather impacts of the most powerful El Nino in almost 20 years, including a colder-than-normal winter and above-normal precipitation for the deep south, especially Florida.
The Tool Shed
With a staff of about a dozen, the Southeast Regional Climate Hub focuses on providing tools and information to professionals like county Extension agents, NRCS, and private consultants who work with land owners and managers to improve their land and crop yields.
Some examples of our recent work include the “Tool Shed,” a website that catalogs hundreds of tools that land managers can use to assess and address stresses like drought, insect, disease, excess rain, frost, and extreme temperatures. The Hub has monthly newsletters about meetings, webinars, workshops, and information related to working land management across the Southeast.
The free SERCH LIGHTS alert delivers monthly, location-specific updates on near-term (1-3 month) drought, excess rain, heat and cold forecasts, along with practical options for minimizing these impacts. Together, the Southeast Regional Climate Hub is working with private, universities, state, and federal agencies to provide land managers with the tools and information resources that they need to make their lands productive in the years to come, regardless of what the climate might bring. For more information, please visit http://www.climatehubs.oce.usda.gov/southeast.
(Contact Steve McNulty at [email protected] or 919-515-9489)