Using Climate to Explain and Predict West Nile Virus Risk in Nebraska

Kelly Helm Smith, Andrew J. Tyre, Jeff Hamik, Michael J. Hayes, Yuzhen Zhou, Li Dai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


We used monthly precipitation and temperature data to give early warning of years with higher West Nile Virus (WNV) risk in Nebraska. We used generalized additive models with a negative binomial distribution and smoothing curves to identify combinations of extremes and timing that had the most influence, experimenting with all combinations of temperature and drought data, lagged by 12, 18, 24, 30, and 36 months. We fit models on data from 2002 through 2011, used Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC) to select the best-fitting model, and used 2012 as out-of-sample data for prediction, and repeated this process for each successive year, ending with fitting models on 2002–2017 data and using 2018 for out-of-sample prediction. We found that warm temperatures and a dry year preceded by a wet year were the strongest predictors of cases of WNV. Our models did significantly better than random chance and better than an annual persistence naïve model at predicting which counties would have cases. Exploring different scenarios, the model predicted that without drought, there would have been 26% fewer cases of WNV in Nebraska through 2018; without warm temperatures, 29% fewer; and with neither drought nor warmth, 45% fewer. This method for assessing the influence of different combinations of extremes at different time intervals is likely applicable to diseases other than West Nile, and to other annual outcome variables such as crop yield.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020GH000244
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • West Nile Virus
  • disease vector
  • drought
  • ecologic modeling
  • prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Epidemiology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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