Western Kentucky University is developing a statewide drought warning system with the help of a $200,000 federal grant.
The Bowling Green Daily News reports the Kentucky Climate Center at Western Kentucky University received the two-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Officials will use the money to install soil moisture and temperature probes at 10 sites within the Kentucky Mesonet, a network of 69 weather monitoring stations across 67 counties.
The project also includes a website for people to track climate conditions and training for how to share drought conditions with the public.
“It’s really just trying to keep people better informed about conditions before it gets to be too late,” State Climatologist Stuart Foster said.
Kentucky has a history of droughts, with the latest extreme drought happening in 2012. A drought in the fall of 2016 led to wildfires in eastern Kentucky. The thick smoke from those fires led to a series of wrecks that killed one man and injured 14 others.
Foster said droughts happen slowly “and very commonly one doesn’t realize they’re in a drought until it’s already happening.” He said Kentucky will likely be more vulnerable to drought in the coming decades because of climate change projections that predict the region will be wetter in winter and spring and drier summer and fall. He said Kentucky has an ample water supply that could help it weather those conditions. But he said it would require careful preparation.
“Kentucky could become a more strategic location for economic growth and development for the future,” Foster said. “If we manage that resource well then we can benefit from that.”
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