Raising Nebraska's newest exhibit addition focuses on the flooding that struck the state in March 2019; to provide context and answers on climate change, they turned to the Nebraska State Climate Office (NSCO) in the School of Natural Resources.
Sprinkled among Raising Nebraska’s 25,000 square feet of exhibition space on the Nebraska State Fairgrounds in Grand Island, Nebraska, are climatologists Martha Shulski, Tyler Williams and Al Dutcher sharing their knowledge in the Trusted Voices feature.
“One of the things that makes Raising Nebraska a unique place for learning is that we connect the public to the experts,” said Sarah Polak, experience coordinator at Raising Nebraska. “There is much misinformation on the Internet and in the public about agriculture, food, and weather. When our visitors have questions, we want them to have the best and most current information on a topic.
“Asking the NSCO climatologists to partner with us has allowed us to not only provide the best information, but it allows the public to hear directly from the experts on a topic.”
In six short video clips, the NSCO climatologists provide the answers to commonly asked climate questions, including how climate is different than weather; how climate change and agriculture are related; and if global warming is real. But they’ll also provide the answer to, “What caused the flood of 2019?” and “Are we really seeing greater weather extremes?”
Included in the exhibit is footage from the Platte River Timelapse project, showing the Platte River before, during and after the flood, and a mixed-reality experience that allows visitors to experience the height or depth of the flooding in a digital world. Polak also said new pieces will be added to the exhibit as the impacts of the weather are revealed in the long term.
The spring flood was far-reaching, stretching along swollen river veins in southern and eastern Nebraska. Farms were destroyed, livestock lost and communities severely damaged. Some areas remain under water, some areas are experiencing new flooding, and transportation and commerce are still being affected.
“To capture the impact (of the extensive flooding) in a short amount of time in a way that is meaningful is very difficult,” Polak said. But they hope all visitors, Nebraskans and non-Nebraskans, learn from the exhibit the scope of the spring’s weather events and their impact on the state.
“This past spring, and now summer, the public saw examples on TV and online of these farm and ranch families struggling due to weather. They also saw the impacts of weather on urban areas as well,” she said. “We knew we could create an opportunity for people to talk about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened from a fact-based place that can help people understand the events.”
Polak said they also hope to increase the understanding about climate; and to better illustrate the connections between weather, climate and agriculture.
Raising Nebraska is an award-winning agricultural literacy experience on food and the families who grow it. It’s also a collaborative effort among the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s 4-H and Extension programs.
“There is probably no more trusted source in the state of Nebraska than Extension,” Shulski said. “Educators live and work in the communities they serve, know their stakeholders well, and most importantly will be a familiar face to talk about these topics. Trust leads to greater engagement, which hopefully will lead to better outcomes.”
To be among the voices trusted by Nebraskans is an honor, and a position the state climate office doesn’t take lightly. The mission, after all, is to arm stakeholders with the information they need to make decisions important to their lives.
Their excitement and passion for working on the project was evident to Polak from the first meeting.
“The spirit of collaboration and creative energy in working on this project has been wonderful,” she said. “We are thankful to the NSCO and the climatologists for their support of this project and we look forward to continuing this partnership into the future.”