Series

ENSO 2015 forecast
The climatic cycle known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, exerts a powerful but irregular influence on weather around the world. Climatologists predicted that 2015 could be a record year for El Niño, given surface water temperature warming in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean — one of the key indicators of the cycle. Its impact in Wisconsin is indirect but causes general warmer conditions in winter — while other parts of the world can see droughts, floods, and massive food insecurity. But El Niño can still cause challenges for Wisconsin farmers, tourism, logging, and wildlife. The cycle is highly unpredictable, and scientists are still trying to understand how it interacts with global climate change.More
Gooseneck pipes
Drinking water quality varies across in Wisconsin. In communities with public utilities, drinking water is subject to disparate levels of treatment depending on local needs and budget concerns. Nearly one million households get their water from private wells, which depend on property owners for monitoring and treatment. Across the state, many natural processes and human activities can introduce pathogens and chemical contaminants into water supplies. Wherever their drinking water comes from, Wisconsinites can use various resources to better understand and improve its quality.More
Ticks are a familiar nuisance around Wisconsin, but they also pose a growing health risk to the humans they feed on, exposing them to disease-causing pathogens. Deer ticks have spread across much of the state in recent decades, feeding on wildlife along with people and their pets. These ticks transmit Lyme disease, and the state is facing a persistently high rate of infection. Ticks spread other illnesses as well. Entomologists and public health researchers are investigating the relationship between ticks, their hosts and the surrounding environment, but continue to emphasize prevention as the best way to reduce infections.More
The deer herd at the heart of Wisconsin's beloved hunting tradition faces a growing threat in the form of chronic wasting disease, caused by an infectious type of protein called prions. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources began testing for CWD in 1999, detecting more than 100,000 infected deer since, mostly in southern areas of the state. As DNR policies for monitoring CWD shift amid changing political priorities for wildlife management, hunters and scientists remain concerned about the disease's threat to the health of the deer herd.More
Phosphorus is an essential building block of life, but it's also one of the world's most common and troublesome pollutants. Intensive agriculture unleashes excess levels of phosphorus in the form of manure and other fertilizers. What plants don't consume of this essential nutrient lingers on the ground or makes its way down into soil. Rain pushes this phosphorus into streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. When too much enters a body of water, it can fuel blooms of noxious and sometimes toxic microorganisms — a frequent problem in lakes around Wisconsin and in the Great Lakes. Farmers, scientists, environmentalists, and state and local officials are struggling to reach a consensus about how to manage this nutrient pollution while maintaining a robust agricultural industry.More
The Yahara WatershedMore
Fleeing conflict and persecution around the world, refugees are a small but significant part of Wisconsin's population. While it's not the biggest destination for resettlement in the United States, the state is home to thousands of people who arrived as refugees from several dozen countries. A Hmong community took root across Wisconsin in the 1970s, and a small Somali community settled in rural Barron County in the 1990s, but large numbers of refugees from countries including Burma, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have arrived in the 21st century. People seeking refugee status in the U.S. — which is distinct from other kinds of immigration — have gone through an extensive vetting process, but a rise of xenophobia and new federal policies threaten to make their position more uncertain.More
ShotSpotter screen view
As the population and computing power grow, the complex systems that support everyday life have the capacity to generate detailed data that can provide crucial insights into health, education, the economy and much more. But those systems can still fall short in gathering useful or relevant information. In some cases, information is spread among disparate entities. In others, it simply has not been analyzed. When data is limited, these gaps can reveal blind spots among and challenges to policies and institutions.More
More Wisconsinites have become homeless since the Great Recession, but their numbers have proven difficult to track. In fact, different methods of counting the homeless yield wildly different numbers. But it's clear that homelessness spans both urban and rural areas in Wisconsin, and is having a huge impact on children and families, not just single adults. Researchers, advocates and policymakers across the state are exploring new approaches to address homelessness, from experimenting with the "housing-first" model to proposing controversial ordinances that restrict where people can sleep or ask for money.More
Opioid overdoses kill hundreds of Wisconsinites every year, amid a nationwide surge in painkiller and heroin abuse that's been building since the turn of the century. Opioids are a category of pain relief drugs that include long-known substances like morphine and heroin, but also powerful synthetic pharmaceuticals like hydrocodone and fentanyl. Years of widespread opioid prescriptions helped initiate the crisis, and the increasing cheap cost of these drugs fueled the spread of abuse in rural, suburban and urban communities alike. All levels of government are mobilizing to address opioid abuse, and like many states, Wisconsin is adopting policies that focus on public health approaches over emphasizing criminalization. As the contours of this epidemic continues to shift, so do efforts to contain and reverse it among health care providers, law enforcement and community organizations.More
The lack of data in adult literacy
The term "literacy" covers more than just the basic ability to read and write. This concept has evolved to cover a broad continuum of skills people need in their lives. Many adults and children struggle with literacy in its various forms, as they navigate the increasingly complex worlds of health care, finance, and technology. Their needs are difficult to quantify, especially when it comes to adult literacy. But Wisconsinites can turn to many resources and organizations to empower themselves through enhanced literacy skills.More
The Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha received approval in 2016 to draw drinking water from Lake Michigan after a years-long bid to replace its radium-tainted groundwater supply. Waukesha became the first community not located within the Great Lakes Basin to gain access to this water source. The decision marked an historic test of the binational Great Lakes Compact between the U.S. and Canada governing use of the five lakes. As Waukesha prepares to start accessing the water by the early 2020s, controversies continue over how it will affect state and regional waterways and the precedent it sets in Great Lakes water policy.More
Elizabethkingia culture
A bacteria named Elizabethkingia anophelis infected scores of people in Wisconsin in late 2015 and early 2016, and at least 18 of these patients subsequently died. The bacteria occurs commonly in the environment, but the aggressive, drug-resistant infections it causes are very rare. State and federal public health officials have struggled to understand the source of this outbreak. Elizabethkingia bacteria are relatively new to science, and this pattern of infections differed significantly from others in the medical literature. Previous outbreaks have usually centered around specific hospitals and intensive-care units, whereas the Wisconsin patients were spread around the southern and eastern parts of the state and didn't have any one medical facility in common.More
Aerial view of Milwaukee, looking southeast
Milwaukee experienced a dramatic increase in shootings and homicides in 2015. This violence was concentrated in the poorest areas of Wisconsin's largest city, one with entrenched racial and economic disparities. The locations of most homicides correspond with the zip codes that have the highest poverty rates, the lowest levels of educational attainment, weak access to mental-health services, and high numbers of people struggling to pay rent. These issues are also connected to historical events like the city's urban-renewal programs of the 1960s, which displaced many African-American families from their homes.More
Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes played a key role in Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Trump became the first Republican candidate to win the state since 1984. The outcome suggests a re-alignment in the American electorate, especially in more rural areas of the state that have previously been more supportive of Democratic candidates. Conventional political wisdom went out the window in the election, as did the accuracy of public-opinion polls.More
The health system in the U.S. is built upon a complex and interlocking series of relationships between medical providers, insurers, the federal and state governments, employers and the people who require preventive care and treatment throughout their lives. The enactment of the Affordable Care Act, one goal of which was securing coverage for more Americans, has profoundly transformed this system since its implementation, including in Wisconsin. At the same time, the political contentiousness of the law has added complexity and uncertainty to the health care decisions Americans make, and the future of the health care system continues to be an open question.More
Bullying not only harms children, but likewise poses a challenge to parents, caretakers, educators and community leaders. Rates of bullying reported by surveyed students varies, but it's a persistent problem with ongoing consequences for mental health -- both bullying victims and their aggressors face an increased risk of suicide. In the 21st century, children are also facing the issue of cyberbullying through social networks and other digital communications. Trusted adults play an integral role in prevention and intervention, by teaching kids how to get along better with others and resolve disagreements respectfully, by modeling appropriate behaviors, and by advocating on behalf of vulnerable individuals.More
Chickens
An unprecedented avian influenza epidemic struck the poultry industry in the U.S. over the spring and early summer of 2015. It was concentrated in several Midwestern states, with Wisconsin seeing infections in several counties that are home to major turkey and chicken operations. Both federal and state government agencies worked in tandem with poultry farmers to halt and prevent further spread of the disease, resulting in the destruction of more than 1.9 million birds in the state. The epidemic was a serious agricultural challenge for the nation, driving up egg prices and spurring officials and poultry producers to strengthen biosecurity measures intended to limit the spread and impact of animal diseases.More
Dairy is iconic in Wisconsin, with the production of milk and cheese a longstanding foundation of the state's identity and global reputation. This industry is a significant component of Wisconsin's economy, dependent on the fluctuations of international markets and tastes of consumers, with each affecting the livelihoods of farmers and their employees. Meanwhile, the structure of the business is changing, with the number of farms decreasing as their average size is increasing. Around Wisconsin, the direction of the dairy industry will define the future for producers and communities.More
Schools have long served meals to students in programs supported by state and federal policies, but there's rising interest in using foods grown and raised closer to home. Farm-to-school programs aim to improve the nutrition of schoolchildren and teach them about agriculture, health, business and more. These efforts are likewise structured to create new markets for growers in nearby communities. Schools across Wisconsin have implemented farm-to-school projects and curricula. But the programs take a wide variety of forms, and making them work often requires schools, farmers and advocates to build complex new relationships and infrastructure.More
Years of budget cuts, increased state funding for private schools, Act 10, an increase in teacher retirements and a decrease in young educators entering the workforce have reshaped the face of public education in Wisconsin over the past decade. But these changes are amplified in rural school districts around the state. Many of Wisconsin's rural counties are slowly losing population, which results in shrinking school enrollment numbers and local tax bases, putting pressure on districts budgets. With a growing teacher shortage nationwide, schools in sparsely populated areas struggle to attract new staff. At the same time, districts across the state are increasingly turning to referendums to fill the funding gap.More
Local food generates both widespread interest and economic activity around Wisconsin. Many residents purchase food at farmers' markets, receive community-supported agriculture shares and/or grow their own produce in personal and community gardens. Restaurants and grocery stores are increasingly sourcing homegrown foods as well, and marketing them to consumers seeking local flavors. Scientists and educators are likewise turning their attention to the concept of local food, exploring its benefits and challenges — and Wisconsinites' complex attitudes about it.More
With the passage of Act 23 in 2011, Wisconsin joined a nationwide push by Republican-controlled state governments to require voters show photo ID at the polls in order to cast a ballot. Supporters of the law say it serves a protection against voter impersonation at any frequency, but have offered little specific evidence of this type of fraud being a problem. Multiple lawsuits at the state and federal level have challenged the law on constitutional grounds, with opponents saying it is an attempt to discourage voting among African Americans, college students and the elderly. The status of these court challenges has led to years of uncertainty over when the law would actually be in effect, how it would be enforced, and how the state would help voters who didn't already have photo ID comply.More
Wisconsin experiences all four seasons in their full intensity, sometimes even within a few days of each other. This pattern reflects a classic example of a continental climate, a classification applied to regions of the globe with hot or warm summers and cold winters with average temperatures often below freezing. More specifically, Wisconsin has a humid continental climate, and straddles the border between its hot and mild summer subtypes. What this means over the summer season is that many areas of the state can have temperatures high enough to be dangerous -- to humans, to animals and even to plants. When the mercury rises, though, people can take action to protect lives and property.More
Brown marmorated stink bug
The brown marmorated stink bug is an invasive species in the United States, arriving from Asia in the late 1990s. It has damaged tens of millions of dollars of apples and other crops in eastern states, and struck Michigan in the 2015 growing season. Wisconsin might be next. The insect hasn't yet started preying on crops here, but it has established a breeding population in the state, and it's known to eat many of the things Wisconsin farmers grow — especially apples. However, entomologists are researching the bug's behavior and how to control it.More
The winter holidays are a time when families and friends often gather to share time and traditions. Preparing for these gatherings can be simultaneously joyful and stressful, but proper planning can help people can get the most out of the season, its celebrations and spirit, and renew relationships with others near and far.More