two women pose next to a Women in Defense banner
Alabama Associate State Climatologist Dr. Lee Ellenburg, and Alabama Drought Reach Program Coordinator Brianne Minton observe corn tasseling in a corn field in Huntsville, AL. Corn tasseling is a critical time where the corn crop needs water for pollination.
Courtesy Liz Junod

The high heat, oppressive humidity, and periods of little to no rainfall typical of Alabama summers can cause flash droughts that threaten agriculture, the state’s largest industry. Alabama Drought Reach, a new climate program housed at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), aims to improve communication between scientists and farmers during times of drought.

This program is a partnership between the Alabama Office of the State Climatologist at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System, and the Auburn University Water Resources Center with support from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.

“The goal of Alabama Drought Reach is to improve drought literacy across the state of Alabama,” says Brianne Minton, program coordinator. “Not only will it benefit our farmers and the state climate office, but it will also serve as a valuable tool for the general public to understand how their food and necessities are impacted by drought.”

Alabama Drought Reach is an Auburn University Water Resources Center program. Minton’s office is located at UAH to foster in-person collaboration with the state climate office.

“Partnering with Auburn University in this capacity allows each of us to combine our unique strengths, better serving our farmers across Alabama,” says Dr. Lee Ellenburg, associate state climatologist.

Ellenburg oversees setting Alabama’s drought levels each week. His report helps determine the classifications of drought, which could allow farmers to receive state and federal drought assistance.

The state climate office uses satellite remote sensing, weather models and in-situ data to understand how temperature, humidity, soil moisture and precipitation can cause dry-downs during the summer.

“But how Alabama’s crops are impacted is what really defines drought,” Ellenburg says, “We need to know from farmers how their crops are impacted by the weather.”

To help collect weekly information on the status of Alabama’s crops, the Alabama Drought Reach program will build a direct pipeline of communication between farmers and the state climate office, with extension and experiment station personnel serving as liaisons.

Agents will be trained to monitor specific farm sites by taking photos and measuring the scale of wetness weekly. The scale of wetness is determined based on the crop’s critical growth stage and how the crop is faring throughout the growing season. Then they will input the scale of wetness information and photos into an app.

“This information will allow the state climate office to relay to the United States Drought Monitor the justification as to why Alabama should be in a certain classification of drought based on how crops are impacted by weather conditions weekly,” Ellenburg says.

In return, the objective data the state climate office produces will be funneled by the Alabama Drought Reach program to extension and experiment station personnel to be disseminated to farmers within their counties.

To stay informed on the latest drought information for the state of Alabama, follow Alabama Drought Reach program Twitter handle, @ALDroughtReach.