Environmental and Societal Impacts of Weather and Climate, Illinois State Water Survey

Environmental and Societal Impacts of Weather and Climate

            Back in the mid-1960s, the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) launched a pioneering program to define the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of weather and climate that continues today. This was an endeavor unmatched by any other atmospheric science research institution. Strong contacts of ISWS staff with scientists in other disciplines at the University of Illinois and other universities and research institutions helped bring together the multidisciplinary talents necessary for such impact studies. Through numerous publications and conference presentations, the ISWS program attained national recognition for innovation and high quality, and ISWS scientists received numerous awards for their achievements in this field.

            This program developed for two reasons. By 1965, federal and state funding for atmospheric research became harder to obtain and often required value measurements to justify pursuance. Evolving ISWS large research programs in weather modification and urban effects on weather required impact assessments of altered weather and climate conditions.

            Extensive research on weather and climate impacts was conducted in six areas: a) the hydrologic cycle; b) agriculture; c) human life and property; d) transportation, retail business, and infrastructure; e) legal issues and government policies; and f) climate information effects on decision making.

            Effects of weather-climate averages and extremes on the Hydrologic Cycle included their impacts on streamflow and groundwater. Studies defined basic relationships related to floods and droughts in Illinois (1960–present), and other relationships for use in assessing potential effects of changing climate conditions (1987–present). Although major field programs initiated at St. Louis and Chicago were intended to define urban effects on rainfall and storms, they also embraced a series of investigations of effects of changed precipitation quantity and quality on streamflow and groundwater.

            Impacts of weather and climate on Agriculture included studies of crop yields, insect pests, and irrigation using climate-based analyses and field measurements. Five study areas have evolved since 1965:


       1.    Crop yield–weather effects for weather insurance interests and for impact assessments of irrigation in Illinois, 1965–1982.

       2.    Crop yield effects of altered weather due to planned and inadvertent weather modification, 1970–1995.

       3.    Crop yield effects of changing climate, 1992–present.

       4.    Weather effects on movement and control of insect pests, 1980s.

       5.    Pollutant effects on soil quality, 1970–1987.


            Assessments of weather impacts on Human Life and Property focused on causation due to shifts in weather and climate, or to changes in society. Included were studies of the effects of the severe winter storms of the 1970s, the large number of weather-related catastrophes during the 1990s (1993 floods, 1999 blizzard, and Chicago rainstorms of 2001), the severe 1995 and 1999 heat waves, and individual severe storms in Illinois caused by hail, high winds, and/or tornadoes.

            Studies assessed impacts of weather and climate conditions (for example, El Niño 1997–1998, the major floods of 1993, and the drought of 1988) on Transportation, Retail Business, and Infrastructure. Other studies assessed the effects on buildings, impacts of altered levels of Lake Michigan due to climate fluctuations, and impacts resulting from climate change.

            Effects of weather and climate on Legal Issues and Government Policies included weather modification, and weather and climate influences on federal and state policies including acid rain and global climate change. Also included was development of the Illinois Weather Modification Control Act in 1972, and impacts of shifts in Great Lake levels on state and national policy development in the United States and Canada related to the Great Lakes diversion at Chicago.

            Assessments of Climate Information Effects on Decision Making in different sectors (agriculture, power utilities, and the insurance industry) were driven by private funding and grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


            The major achievement was developing a solid, high-quality, long-lasting research program to assess weather and climate impacts. Delineation of atmospheric impacts has allowed the ISWS to better understand user needs for weather-climate products, which has enhanced the agency’s constituency in Illinois.

            Sizable grants from a diverse number of private industries and various federal agencies have supported and continue to support program research. The National Science Foundation funded the technology assessment of hail suppression in 1975 (Hail Suppression and Society, ISWS Contract Report 183). Numerous grants from the Crop-Hail Insurance Actuarial Association, 1960–1977, resulted in more than 55 publications. Several grants from NOAA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Geological Survey funded numerous other projects on impacts of rainfall on agriculture, water resources including droughts and floods, and transportation.


         1964 Horton Award, American Geophysical Union: Huff, F., and S. Changnon, 1964. Relation Between Precipitation Deficiency and Low Streamflow. Journal of Geophysical Research 69:605–613.

         1966 Science of Building Award, Building Research Institute: Changnon, S., 1964. Effect of Wind-borne Rain on Weather-proofing. Building Research, November, pp. 1–4.

         1978 Award for Professional Excellence, American Agricultural Economics Association: Changnon, S., R. Davis, B. Farhar, J. Haas, L. Ivens, D. Mann, G. Morgan, E. Swanson, and J. Van Blokland, 1977. Hail Suppression Impacts and Issues, ISWS Survey Contract Report 184, Urbana, IL.

         1981 Cleveland Abbe Award, American Meteorological Society: Stan Changnon for his dedication and tireless efforts in revealing the impacts of weather and climate on humanity.

         1986 Horton Award, American Meteorological Society: Floyd Huff for outstanding contributions to the science of hydrometeorology.

         1989 Boggess Award, American Water Resources Association: Changnon, S., and W. Easterling, 1989. Measuring Drought Impacts: The Illinois Case. Water Resources Bulletin 25:27–42.

         1991 Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Advance of Applied Meteorology, American Meteorological Society: Stan Changnon, for sustained and successful efforts to apply climate knowledge to satisfy a wide variety of agriculture and industrial needs.


Illinois State Water Survey

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