What is your name?
Donald A. Wilhite
Where do you live?
Lincoln, Nebraska USA
Have you ever been in a drought?
Yes, many times--in Nebraska as well as other parts of the country and all over the world.
If so, please describe the experience?
We have been in a severe drought this past spring and summer. The NDMC's experiences are
different than others because of the nature of the mission of our organization. Although
a drought effects everyone to some degree, the greatest impacts this year in Nebraska have
been on agriculture and municipalities that have limited water supplies available. From the
NDMC perspective, the impacts are also on our time as we respond to hundreds of requests from
the media and others on the status of conditions, impacts, and appropriate responses. One of
our goals is to build awareness of the need for preparedness and mitigation so a drought
occurrence is an excellent educational opportunity. There is always a drought occurring somewhere
in the US and in other parts of the world. Therefore, we provide information and advice through
the country and the world to help nations prepare for drought.
When and where did the drought occur?
The current drought in Nebraska began in 1999 as a result of a very dry fall that continued
into the winter and spring months. The driest area of the state was in the eastern half.
This drought area also extended into Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan
and Ohio. Other pockets of drought this year have occurred in the southeast and southwestern
How did you first get interested in drought research/mitigation?
My interest in this area of research began in graduate school. I began as a climatologist
and over my career have become more focused on policy and planning issues.
What are some of your duties at the National Drought Mitigation Center?
I am the Director of the NDMC. I am also a professor in the School of Natural Resource
Sciences at the University of Nebraska. Our mission is the promote preparedness and mitigation
as a means to reduce society's vulnerability to drought. We function as a clearinghouse via
our web site. We also advise policy makers, conduct training workshops, conduct research
on many different aspects of drought, including the development of planning methodologies.
What sorts of classes do you teach at the University of Nebraska?
My appointment is 90% research and outreach and only 10% teaching. I teach one class
in alternate years. The course I teach is in my area of research. It is a senior level/
graduate course, climate and society. The focus of the class is to analyze how climate
affects society and how societies have responded to climatic events in the past. We also
focus on how society can better respond and prepare to events in the future. The class
looks at natural hazards in general, with emphasis on drought. We also address issues such
as climate change. The class have a strong policy emphasis.
Is there any advice you have for people living in drought areas? Any safety/water conservation tips?
Preparedness begins with the individual. People need to understand the risk and potential
impacts, as well as tactical and planning techniques to improve coping capacity. Governments
need to formulate drought plans to improve mitigation and response, thus reducing impacts.
How can interested people get more involved?
Visit our web site to learn more about the complex subject of drought. Become better informed
and practice good stewards of water, understand its true value, preserve its quality.
What do you think can be done in the future to prevent more droughts or protect lives and property?
We can't prevent droughts from occurring because they are a natural phenomenon. What we can do is
better understand the hazard (i.e., our exposure to the events, frequency, severity) and develop
plans and other strategies to lessen impacts. Drought is a creeping phenomenon, a slow onset
disaster. Therefore, we need improved monitoring systems to detect the early emergence of drought
and to trigger specific acations by government and individuals.
Do you have anything else you would like to tell? (i.e. personal stories, etc.)
I have many stories but no time to elaborate. Good luck with your project.