Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith

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

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: 402-472-4915
VitaeDownload file


Contact Preference

Email to check availability or make an appointment, or stop by. If my office door is ajar it is OK to interrupt.

Office Hours

M - F 8 am to 5 pm

My Story

Hi, my name is Kelly Helm Smith, and I was one of the original employees of the National Drought Mitigation Center when it was established in 1995. I started my working life as a newspaper reporter, and then worked in corporate public relations for several years. The newly forming drought center needed a communications person, and I joined in that capacity. Working at the drought center, which focuses on planning, as well as my longstanding interest in mediation and conflict resolution, led me to a master’s degree in Community & Regional Planning. That led to a six-year hiatus from the drought center, during which time I worked with Lincoln’s African refugee and immigrant populations on behalf of various faith-based and non-profit organizations. I had the very good fortune to be able to return to the drought center in 2006, and soon thereafter began focusing on drought impacts. After several years of being challenged by physical scientists to get past “anecdotal” narrative accounts of drought impacts, I did a Ph.D. focused on quantitative methods to detect the effects of drought, separately examining West Nile Virus cases in Nebraska counties, tweets, and crowdsourced drought observations.

Now my research centers on drought impacts and the diverse ways in which people in different sectors experience, describe and quantify the effects of drought. I am responsible for the Drought Impacts Toolkit ( ), including developing new, continuously updated datasets from news stories, Twitter, and crowdsourcing, and providing them as maps. These maps contribute to interpretation of climate data for the U.S. Drought Monitor. I lead a nation-wide effort to crowdsource photos and observations related to drought, working with state and regional partners to balance the need for central coordination with individual states’ different needs and resources ( I frequently wonder what would happen if we harnessed the power of social media algorithms to promote human and planetary well-being.

As communications coordinator for the National Drought Mitigation Center, I supervise a staff of three, working with others throughout the center to convey information on drought monitoring, impacts and solutions. NDMC communications contributes significantly to the national discourse around drought, providing a consistent weekly interpretation of the U.S. Drought Monitor, with Twitter followers now over 9,000. As assistant director, I work closely with the director to implement communication initiatives and special projects, to represent the center in an official capacity when the director needs backup, and to handle an array of miscellaneous duties.

Note on having three names: It’s three names, no hyphen. Helm counts as a middle name, so alphabetize by Smith. The "Helm" is generally silent in spoken speech, but useful in publishing to be distinguishable from all the other Smiths out there.

Selected Publications

Jedd, T., Smith, K. H. (2022). Drought-Stricken U.S. States Have More Comprehensive Water-Related Hazard Planning. Water Resources Management.Online
Liu, T., Krop, R., Haigh, T., Smith, K., Svoboda, M. (2021). Valuation of Drought Information: Understanding the value of the US Drought Monitor in land management. Water, 13(2), 112.Online
Zhang, B., Schilder, F., Smith, K., Harms, S., Tadesse, T., Hayes, M. J. (2021). TweetDrought: A Deep-Learning Drought Impacts Recognizer based on Twitter Data. International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) 2021.Online
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. doi: 10.1175/WCAS-D-19-0140.1Online
Smith, K., Tyre, D., Hamik, J., Hayes, M. J., Zhou, Y., Dai, L. (2020). Using climate to explain and predict West Nile Virus risk in Nebraska. GeoHealth 9(4). doi: 10.1029/2020GH000244Online
Smith, K.H., A.J. Tyre, Z. Tang, M.J. Hayes, F.A. Akyuz, (2020) Calibrating human attention as indicator: Monitoring #drought in the Twittersphere. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-19-0342.1
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 University1985
Bachelor of ArtsHistory (French minor)Bryn Mawr College1984




Professional Organizations

American Geophysical UnionMember
American Meteorological SocietyMember
American Planning AssociationMember
American Public Health AssociationMember




SNR Program Areas

  • Applied Climate and Spatial Science

Areas of Interest/Expertise

  • Drought impacts
  • Climate impacts
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Big Data
  • Drought signal
  • Automated text analysis


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 TitleDrought Vulnerability Assessment for Oregon
Starting Date04/12/2023


Ending Date01/01/2024
Funding Level$192,261.00
Funding AgencyState of Oregon


Grant TitleA communication Framework for Ecological Drought Information in the Southwestern US
Starting Date11/04/2022


Ending Date08/31/2023
Funding Level$29,863.00
Funding AgencyNew Mexico State University


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



Graduate Programs

Master of Applied Science

Master of Science in Natural Resource Sciences
including specializations in

  • Human Dimensions

Doctorate of Philosophy in Natural Resource Sciences
including specializations in

  • Human Dimensions