Project Nighthawk

Innovating Approaches to Drought Communications with North Carolina Decision Makers
Note: Project Nighthawk officially ended on August 31, 2020, and we have transitioned information about this project, including an archive of resources we developed, to a separate web page. Please visit that site for more details.

Background   |   Why Nighthawk?   |   Objectives   |   Timeline   |   Our Partners   |   Funding Source   |   Contact Us   |   For Participants


In the aftermath of recent droughts in North Carolina, including the exceptional drought of 2007-08, decision makers across the state have articulated their needs for information and communications that enhance and improve upon existing resources. These needs include a better understanding of how drought is monitored, the environmental conditions that can cause or worsen a drought, and drought impacts on various sectors including agriculture, forestry, and water resources. This project focuses on improving the usability of drought-relevant information for North Carolina decision makers based on needs identified by the NC Drought Management Advisory Council and constituents such as Cooperative Extension agents and public water supply system managers.

Why Nighthawk?

The common nighthawk. Photo by Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren, shared under CC BY 2.0.

Project Nighthawk takes its name and inspiration from nature. The common nighthawk, or Chordeiles minor, is a bird species native to North Carolina. When it comes to drought response, though, these birds are anything but common. Every aspect of a nighthawk’s life can be affected by drought:

  • They lay their eggs not in a nest but on bare ground, so even in forested areas, temperature and precipitation extremes can limit their ability to incubate eggs at night or cool them during the day (Albright et al., 2010).
  • Males roost in trees to keep watch over the nests, so drought impacts such as wildfire can indiscriminately destroy their closely guarded habitats (Fisher et al., 2004).
  • They feed on aquatic insects, so hydrological drought conditions can limit the availability of their major food source near ponds and streams (Environment Canada, 2016).

Despite those impacts, the common nighthawk has been observed as one of the first creatures to return to drought- and fire-affected areas (Robertson, 2016). Indeed, they’re one of nature’s best examples of drought resilience.

Just as the common nighthawk has learned to live with and recover from drought, our goal in Project Nighthawk is to help decision makers across North Carolina become better informed about and prepared to respond to drought and the weather and climate patterns that can cause and alleviate it.


Our specific objectives are to:

  1. develop tailored, sector-specific information relevant for drought-related decision points,
  2. deliver information in accessible and usable formats, and
  3. improve the transparency of the drought monitoring process through enhanced engagement and communication with decision makers.


We plan to approach Project Nighthawk through the lens of three key sectors that are affected by drought: agriculture, forestry and water resources. While working with each sector, our iterative approach will help us (a) identify information needs and gaps in existing drought resources, (b) develop new communication strategies specifically targeted to each sector, (c) evaluate these new prototypes using both qualitative and quantitative metrics, and (d) refine our new products to best meet stakeholder needs.

Our workflow and planned tasks for each phase of the project are outlined below.

Phase 1 - Identify

Refine priorities for new products with project partners and target audiences

▶ Read the Two-Page Summary or the Full Writeup

TaskAgriculture/Forestry TimelineWater Resources Timeline
Survey extension agents, resource managers, and other identified sectoral representatives about their information needs, perceptions of drought, and awareness of existing resourcesCompleted in October 2018Completed in October 2018
Hold follow-up webinars for key project partners, including members of the NC Drought Management Advisory Council, to refine key needs and priorities for each sectorCompleted in November 2018
(view slides)
Completed in December 2018
(view slides)

Phase 2 - Develop

Develop tailored information and communication prototypes

▶ Read the Spring 2019 Two-Page Summary

TaskAgriculture/Forestry TimelineWater Resources Timeline
Develop prototype products and communication strategies to best meet the identified needs of sectoral stakeholdersCompleted in Winter 2019Completed in Winter 2019

Phase 3 - Evaluate & Refine

Assess prototypes with stakeholder assessment and engagement, refine and enhance information and communication deliverables

▶ Read the Spring 2019 Two-Page Summary

TaskAgriculture/Forestry TimelineWater Resources Timeline
Host focus group discussions and eye tracking studies at statewide conferences to evaluate current and newly developed resourcesChatham County Cooperative Extension Workshop
Held on February 22, 2019
Water Resource Research Institute Annual Conference
Held on March 21-22, 2019
(view slides)
NC Drought Management Advisory Council Annual In-Person Meeting
Held on April 4, 2019
(view slides)
NC Fire Environment Committee Meeting
Held on May 20, 2019
(view slides)
Catawba-Wateree Drought Advisory Group Meeting
Held on June 11, 2019
(view slides)
NC Association of County Agricultural Agents State Meeting
Held on June 17-19, 2019
Webinar with Water Utility Representatives
Held on September 25, 2019
(view slides)
Refine developed products based on feedback and usability testing from the conference engagementsCompleted in summer/fall 2019Completed in summer/fall 2019

Phase 4 - Implement & Integrate

Integrate and implement communication strategies

TaskAgriculture/Forestry TimelineWater Resources Timeline
Re-convene with key partners and sectoral representatives on a final set of webinars to provide feedback on revised tools and communication strategiesWinter/spring 2020Winter/spring 2020
Triangle Water Partnership Meeting
February 7, 2020

Phase 5 - Evaluate

Evaluate project activities and outcomes

TaskAgriculture/Forestry TimelineWater Resources Timeline
Share a final survey with extension agents and resource managers to assess their potential usage of the newly developed resourcesSpring/summer 2020Spring/summer 2020
As Project Nighthawk wraps up, we also plan to present our results and lessons learned at various conferences and meetings, including:

Our Partners

Project Nighthawk's principal investigators at the State Climate Office of North Carolina — Ms. Rebecca Ward and Mr. Corey Davis — are joined by a co-investigator, Dr. Kirsten Lackstrom, from the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments (CISA) at the University of South Carolina.

Supporters of our project proposal and expected partners throughout the project include the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council, its member organizations, and other key regional stakeholders:

Funding Source

This project was made possible because of Climate Program Office FY 2018 funding opportunity NOAA-OAR-CPO-2018-2005133 in the Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP) “Coping with Drought in Support of the National Integrated Drought Information” competition, with a focus on “improving/enhancing decision making through improved and varied communication techniques such as through the use of social media”.

Contact Us

If you would like more information about Project Nighthawk, please fill out the following form: