News & Updates

Ag & Water Desk series “When It Rains” wins international journalism award

Our collaborative project on increasing rainfall in the Mississippi River basin was honored by the Covering Climate Now Journalism Awards.
A home in Breathitt County, Ky., is inundated by muddy water on July 30, 2022, after historic rains caused deadly flooding in many areas of Eastern Kentucky. Credit: Michael Clevenger, Louisville Courier Journal

The Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk’s collaborative series “When It Rains,” first published in October 2022, has been named a winner in the short-form writing category of the 2023 Covering Climate Now Journalism Awards

“As climate change drives warmer temperatures, swaths of the Mississippi River basin are getting wetter, with already devastating consequences for communities. This special series… explores the diverse and widespread impacts of the ensuing deluge, on economies, infrastructure, agriculture, and more,” Covering Climate Now said in its announcement. “Judges were impressed by the collaboration’s initiative… and they applauded these pieces for going beyond the headlines to humanize an urgent story that threatens to grow worse.” 

“When It Rains” comprised four feature stories, two sidebars, data visualizations, photography and audio versions. It was the Ag & Water Desk’s first all-team project, with contributions from more than a dozen local newsrooms and at least 30 reporters, editors, advisors, photographers, producers and student journalists across at least eight states. 

The project began in the wake of deadly and historic floods in Kentucky and beyond in summer 2022. Editorial director Tegan Wendland worked with Climate Central on data analysis that found parts of the basin are now seeing up to 8 more inches of rain a year than they did 50 years ago. 

Desk reporters then fanned out across the watershed to get a firsthand look at the costs and benefits of solutions to this massive change, from managed retreat and new infrastructure to just making more room for rivers to swell. Their stories included: 

  1. The Mississippi River basin is getting wetter as climate change brings era of extremes 
  2. To stay or to go: Increased flooding forces towns to make hard choices 
  3. A wetter world is changing farm country. Can growers adapt? 
  4. Making room for the river: Communities look at nature-based solutions 

Like all of the Ag & Water Desk’s journalism, “When It Rains” is available for free republication. It reached tens of millions of Americans via more than 60 news outlets across the country, from small rural newspapers and radio stations to large national outlets like NPR.  

“These stories are meeting our goal of covering the basin as an ecosystem, flying at that 40,000-foot height and analyzing how these trends play out across the region,” said Ag & Water Desk executive director Sara Shipley Hiles in a University of Missouri news release after the series was first published. “This is how we see the bigger picture and help people connect the dots.”

The Ag & Water Desk is a member of the Covering Climate Now journalism network and is grateful to be recognized by our peers with this award.

Readers can sign up for our newsletter to get our latest headlines in your inbox every other Friday. News editors can sign up to republish Ag & Water Desk stories for free. The Ag & Water Desk is an independent reporting network based at the University of Missouri in partnership with Report for America, with major funding from the Walton Family Foundation.