Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith

  • Contact Information
  • My Story
  • Publications
  • Background
  • Interests
  • Grants

Contact Information

TitleHuman Ecologist | NDMC Assistant Director and Communications Coordinator
Faculty RankResearch Assistant Professor
Address820 South Hardin Hall
3310 Holdrege Street
Lincoln NE
  • office: 402-472-3373
  • fax: 402-472-2946


Office Hours

M - F 8 am to 5 pm

My Story

Hi, I'm Kelly Smith, communications and drought resources specialist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, which is based at UNL's School of Natural Resources.

I grew up in Springfield, Missouri, where I started my working life in high school at Baskin Robbins, and enjoyed the miraculous stay-thin powers of youth as I vigorously sampled my way through all 31-plus flavors, with special attention to Jamoca Almond Fudge. The summer after high school I had the good fortune to get a job with the Youth Conservation Corps at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, where I built split rail fencing and cleared poison ivy in the height of the hot, humid Ozarks summer. I loved it. Later I worked at a newsstand, which I felt kept me grounded in the basics of life, at a women's clothing store in a mall, which was not me, to put it mildly, and as a waitress at a German restaurant, where I felt I acquired a basic life skill that made me employable anywhere.

I graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1984 with a B.A. in history and a minor in French, and then went on to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where I received a master's degree in 1985 with a concentration in print - the ancient art of arranging ink on paper in ways that are informative, timely, not likely to get anyone sued, serving the idea that a well-informed electorate is crucial to proper functioning of democracy, all that sort of thing. My first couple of "real" jobs were at daily newspapers, the Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat, and the Waukesha (Wisconsin) County Freeman. I then made the jump to corporate public relations, working for a big printing company in Wisconsin for several years. Among other things, I ghost-wrote for Gruff, the company's real live goat and environmental mascot.

When we moved to Nebraska in 1994 I went to work for Don Wilhite. I became the first official employee of the National Drought Mitigation Center in 1995, and I brag that I helped invent the U.S. Drought Monitor. After several years I could no longer resist the siren song of further graduate studies, so I took what turned out to be a six-year leave of absence in the early 2000s, and got a master's in Community and Regional Planning with a focus on social planning. I ended up working with Lincoln's African refugee populations on behalf of various faith-based and non-profit organizations. I found this work extremely absorbing but after several years of increasingly altruistic effort, my husband suggested, rather reasonably, that perhaps I could seek work that paid a little more consistently, so I found myself with the incredible good fortune to be back at the Drought Center in 2006. Part of my appointment followed Don Wilhite to the School of Natural Resources in 2007, where I wrote news releases, edited the Director's Report and Inside SNR, helped with web content, and took on other projects as they came up. In 2012, all of me returned to the Drought Center.

Selected Publications

Johnson, L. E., Geli, H. M. E., Hayes, M. J., & Smith, K. H. (2020). Building an improved drought climatology using updated drought tools: A New Mexico Food-Energy-Water (FEW) systems focus. Front. Clim. 2: 576653. doi: 10.3389/fclim.Online
Noel, M., D. Bathke, B. Fuchs, D. Gutzmer, T. Haigh, M. Hayes, M. Poděbradská, C. Shield, K. Smith, M. Svoboda. (2020) Linking Drought Impacts to Drought Severity at the State Level. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 101:E1312–E1321.Online
Smith, K., Burbach, M., Hayes, M., Guinan, P. E., Tyre, A., Fuchs, B. (2020). Whose ground truth is it? Harvesting lessons from Missouri’s 2018 bumper crop of drought observations. Weather, Climate, and Society. Volume 13: 227-244.Online
Bachmair, S., Stahl, K., Collins, K., Hannaford, J., Acreman, M., Svoboda, M., Knutson, C., Helm-Smith, K., Wall, N., Fuchs, B., Crossman, N. D., Overton, I. C. 2016. Drought Indicators revisited: practice in monitoring and early warning and the link to Online
Smith, K.H., C.J. Stiles, M.J. Hayes, and C.J. Carparelli, 2016: Support for Drought Response and Community Preparedness: Filling the Gaps between Plans and Action. In Water Policy and Planning in a Variable and Changing Climate: 123-139.Online
Bathke, D., N. Wall, J. Nothwehr, K. Smith, D. Woudenberg, T. Bernadt, C. Bergman, J. Robine, M. Hayes, M. Svoboda, L. Darby, and R. Pulwarty, 2012: Building a Sustainable Network of Drought Communities. National Integrated Drought Information System EngaOnline
Wardlow, B.D., M.J. Hayes, M.D. Svoboda, T. Tadesse, and K.H. Smith, 2009. Sharpening the Focus on Drought – New Monitoring and Assessment Tools at the National Drought Mitigation Center. Earthzine, In press.
Wilhite, D.A., M.J. Hayes, C. Knutson, and K.H. Smith 2000. Planning for drought: Moving from crisis to risk management. Journal of the American Water Resources Association. 36:697-710Online



DegreeMajorInstitutionYear Awarded
Doctorate of PhilosophyNatural Resource Sciences (Human Dimensions)University of Nebrsaka-Lincoln2019
Master of ScienceCommunity and Regional PlanningUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln2005
Master of ScienceNorthwestern University1986
Bachelor of ArtsBryn Mawr College1984






SNR Program Areas

  • Applied Climate and Spatial Science

Areas of Interest/Expertise

  • Science communication
  • Stakeholder involvement
  • Science-policy connection
  • Drought impacts, planning


Currently this page only displays grants that were awarded on 1/1/ 2009 to the present. If a grant was awarded prior to 1/1/ 2009 and is still active, it will not be displayed on this page.

Grant TitleUSDA Support of the US Drought Monitor and Hub Activities
Starting Date10/01/2020


Ending Date09/30/2023
Funding Level$2,375,000.00
Funding AgencyUS Deparment of Agriculture - OCE


Grant TitleDrought Information Services and Research for Ag across the US
Starting Date09/30/2020


Ending Date09/29/2021
Funding Level$800,000.00
Funding AgencyUS Deparment of Agriculture - OCE


Grant TitleDrought Planning for the Republican River Basin
Starting Date08/17/2020


Ending Date05/31/2022
Funding Level$89,810.00
Funding AgencyNebraska Department of Natural Resources


Grant TitleProviding Drought Information Services for the Nation: the National Drought Mitigation Center (Additional Funding)
Starting Date08/01/2020


Ending Date09/30/2021
Funding Level$808,530.00
Funding AgencyNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Grant TitleProviding Drought Risk Management Services for the World Bank
Starting Date05/29/2020


Ending Date03/24/2021
Funding Level$199,994.00
Funding AgencyWorld Bank Group


Grant TitleProviding Drought Information Services for the Nation: the National Drought Mitigation Center
Starting Date09/01/2019


Ending Date08/31/2021
Funding Level$791,470.00
Funding AgencyNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Association


Grant TitleDrought Summit and Outreach
Starting Date01/22/2018


Ending Date09/30/2019
Funding Level$85,000.00
Funding AgencyAmerican Planning Association


Grant TitleDevelopment of the Middle East and North Africa Network of Water Centers
Starting Date02/01/2015


Ending Date12/31/2015
Funding Level$40,052.00
Funding AgencyDeveloment Alternatives, Inc.


Grant TitleTech Assist on Drought Preparedness
Starting Date07/01/2014


Ending Date06/30/2015
Funding Level$25,000.00
Funding AgencyWorld Bank Group


Grant TitleTech Assist on Drought Preparedness
Starting Date10/03/2013


Ending Date06/30/2014
Funding Level$40,000.00
Funding AgencyWorld Bank Group - IBRD