Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford is a recipient of the Prairie Research Institute’s 2022 Early Career Investigator Award. Originally from Roanoke, Illinois, Ford received his bachelor's degree in geography from Illinois State University and completed a master's and Ph.D. degree in geography from Texas A&M University with a focus on climate. Ford was an assistant professor in geography and environmental resources at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale before joining PRI.
"Since starting at PRI I've tried to prioritize public outreach and accessibility, and it means a lot to hear that work was appreciated," said Ford. "It's been a privilege to serve PRI and the state, and I hope my career has the ultimate impact of helping folks in Illinois become more knowledgeable and informed on weather and climate and helping to reduce the impacts of extreme weather and climate change on Illinoisans."
Ford joined the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) in 2019 as the State Climatologist, following recently retired Jim Angel. Since then, he has developed an active research program, earning external funding from the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA, and working with colleagues from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) to explore projects at the intersection of climate, ecology, and disease vectors. He has published research findings that advance our knowledge and understanding of climate change and its impacts, such as on the role of vegetation in flash drought and the regional benefit of limiting the increase in global average temperature.
“Trent's research addresses issues that are relevant to society since climate variability has major implications for agriculture, ecosystem services, recreation, and water resources management. He has published 17 peer-reviewed journal articles since joining PRI, and his publication record shows that he both leads and participates in collaborative research projects,” wrote Professor Steven Quiring at The Ohio State University, “Trent is one of the best early-career climatologists in the United States (top 1 %) and is a pleasure to work with because he has an infectious enthusiasm for research and outreach. He is one of the next generations of thought leaders in the field of climatology.”
The Illinois State Climatologist is one of the most publicly-visible positions at PRI, serving as a point of contact to provide citizens and stakeholders in Illinois with the most up-to-date, scientifically accurate information about climate and weather. In addition to Ford's strong publication record, he has embraced the public outreach aspect of the role, speaking often to farmers, government officials, and other Illinoisans who have questions about weather and climate—particularly the hazards of drought, flooding, and severe storms. Ford has appeared in countless newspaper articles and on radio and TV broadcasts, not to mention using his social media platform to make his weather and climate expertise accessible to all Illinoisans. Earlier this year, he was a key scientific contributor to The Nature Conservancy’s assessment of climate change impact on Illinois; following the report, he organized two public webinars highlighting key takeaways from the assessment. Earlier this year he also met with officials from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, providing them with expert insights on the impact of climate change on Illinois. Through activities like these, Ford exemplifies PRI’s role as “scientists to the state,” bringing clarity to consequential issues and supporting informed decision-making.