Q&A with author Ken Dewey

Great Plains Weather

UNL professor of climatology Ken Dewey is the author of Great Plains Weather, the newest title in the Discover the Great Plains series. Interview by: Center for Great Plains Studies Assistant Director Katie Nieland.

Q: What’s the main idea behind your book Great Plains Weather?
A: To describe the variety of weather that has occurred on the Great Plains and how it has impacted people living here since the early settlers up to today. I did not want to write a text book, although there is quite a bit of factual weather and climate information found throughout the book. I instead wanted to tell stories, a few well known and others buried in the historical archives of how the weather and climate of the Great Plains has had such a dramatic impact on people living and traveling through this area.

Q: Why is weather in the Great Plains so different?
There is only one other place on Earth with more extreme weather — and that is Siberia. We live on a gently sloping plain and are exposed to Arctic and Polar air coming from the north, tropical heat and humidity from the south and southeast, desert dry air from the southwest and a nearby mountain range ready to influence our weather and climate.

Q: What should folks visiting the region know about the weather here?
That we are the heartland of extremes all year long but more so in the spring when blistering heat near 100 degrees has been seen on the Plains as well as below zero readings sometimes just a few days apart. Blizzards can attack the Plains in spring and just a few days later summer heat can surge northward and clash with the cold air producing tornadoes that go racing across the Plains.

Q: If visitors want to see a thunderstorm, when and where should they go to give them the best odds?
Thunderstorm frequency peaks with the northward progression of the spring season, with Texas peaking in April, Nebraska in June, and North Dakota in July and August. Thunderstorms are primarily a late afternoon occurrence on the Plains, so the most photogenic storms are a late afternoon, and evening occurrence. But, thunderstorms can occur any time of the year, even during winter with a snow-covered ground.

Q: What do you think of storm tourism?
People from all over the world come here to see the migration of the Sandhill cranes, but another set of people come from all over the world to have storm chase tour groups drive them in vans up and down the Plains looking for photogenic thunderstorms, lightning, and even tornadoes. In my storm photography out on the Plains, I have also run into individuals coming on their own to see and photograph the spectacular storms that occur on the Plains. I came to work, live and play in Nebraska many years ago with the expressed purpose of being in this area of the most extreme storms. I have enjoyed every moment and have never been bored by our Great Plains weather.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share with visitors about Great Plains weather?
If you enjoy hearing about why the weather is so extreme here on the Plains, this book is for you. If you want to read about some stories of what it has been like for people to experience the extremes in weather and climate on the Plains since the time of the wagon trains to today, then this book is for you.