Honors Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Lucas, N. 2022. Diagnostics of Drought and Infectious Disease as Compounded Events in Socio-Environmental Systems. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Nora Lucas 2022.


There is still much unknown about the relationship between drought and infectious disease, even though 13 states were affected by extreme or exceptional drought in July 2021 and the United States has seen 966,000 COVID deaths (CDC, 2022). Long term water deficit or prolonged dry periods can impact wastewater treatment and handwashing, potentially increasing the likelihood of viral spread. Drought causes an estimated $9 billion in losses each year, particularly to communities with economies reliant on agriculture (NOAA). To analyze drought and COVID-19 as compound events in indigenous Nebraska communities, we compared 2020-2021 climate and public health data to 2019 data, hypothesizing that the events together create more intense drought and COVID cases than if they occurred separately. The purpose of this study is to create a dataset of combined climate and public health information, as well as to develop a spatial and temporal distribution of the compound events. To achieve these goals, we compare climate variables with public health data, including the number of COVID cases to date, and socio-economic information from two communities in Nebraska. The diagnostics of climate in the region show a slight warming trend in minimum and maximum temperature, decreasing trend in observed temperature, and a slight increase in precipitation over 30 years. Further research and application will make data more publicly accessible, increase public understanding of drought, and verify pathways relating water and spread of disease. Not only will a detailed understanding of compound events reduce the economic vulnerability of communities during drought but will increase socio-environmental resilience altogether.