Washington 2050 Forecast Script

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Washington state.  We’ve got a pretty solid baseline outlook here for much of the state, although as with every state in the Northwest, there’s a real wild card factor.  Extreme events are estimated to have a much more significant impact on the region than underlying trends.

Let’s break that down just a little bit more.  Most of the state, the changes you’ll experience in an average year- whether you’re talking about a normal summer, a normal winter, a normal amount of rain- will be pretty small compared to the rest of the country.  But you are going to get whacked by a bunch of extreme disasters on the regular.  It’s all about what kind of risk/reward ratio you’re willing to tolerate.

In terms of highly specific, local information, you might remember that in the Oregon forecast I kinda crab about that kind of resource availability.  For Washington, if you’re interested in Puget Sound, I have the motherload available here for you, for free, right in the video description.  Fabulous local climate research, beautifully collected, one of my top finds during this project in the past six months.  And for those of you who love practical resilience work, finding solutions to things, actually doing things, you gotta check out this sweet solutions engine I found.  I found it looking for resources for Washington State, but it works for the entire American West.  It’s in the video description, I’ll show you how it works towards the end of the video.

Okay, focusing on Washington state here.  Let’s look at sea level rise.  Now, in the long range, if we can get emissions down, follow the RCP 4.5 pathway, Washington state has one of the better coastal outlooks in the nation.  By 2050, we’re looking at about a foot of sea level rise, and if we check it out, we’ll see that will have pretty small impacts.  There will be increased threats from storm surge, but most of the coastline will not look transformed as it certainly will around, say, New Jersey.  Let’s see where it will look different.  Here by Everett, these islands will become open ocean, sad loss of what looks like very pleasant recreational areas.  We expect some fairly minor impacts on port infrastructure around Seattle, compared to projected impacts for other US ports, and no real threats to housing.  Seattle has been working hard, too, to increase resilience to sea rise as well as many other climate hazards.  Seattle City Light, for example, is a national leader in working to build climate resilience into the utilities infrastructure.  If you live in this area, you really can trust that people in leadership are on this problem, very reassuring. 

If we look over here to the Olympic Peninsula, we see that much of the map is strangely blocked out.  We check out the vulnerability, it indicates it’s vulnerable, but we can’t see what’s going on.  Annoying.  But let’s check out Port Angeles, they’re willing to give us a look there, and we can see pretty mild impacts.  Even if we take it up to 3 ft, up past our hopeful limit for the area at end of century, not mid-century, it’s not bad.  And that’s what you see, just so you know, throughout every place we talked about with sea level rise in this state- even if you take it up to 3 feet, you have yes, increasing impacts by Everett, increasing challenges for the ports in Seattle, and loss of some agricultural land, but very little direct threat to housing.  Snohomish will be probably your most impacted sizable community, not right in town but it will look quite different around the town. 

There is one real exception to this largely hopeful coastal forecast, and that is Aberdeen.  That is the one part of the state where we do see a lot of inundation of housing stock, looks like this is the only place I would see the info and think, better to relocate. 

            HARDI: overall change, perhaps the least I have seen.  Look here to the east, almost no change in your plant hardiness zones, some amazing winter stability.  If we look into the area of highest change, that will be here near the coast and the Olympic peninsula.  We can see that the mild winters we’ve seen in parts of the coast will be expanding around the peninsula and expanding outward around Seattle.

            HEAT: here, we’ve got a different picture.  We see some of the best cool summer preservation I’ve seen in the US here for the Olympic peninsula and for Seattle.  This is wonderful news.  When we think of the temperate rainforests, these incredible ecosystems in this area, you have to imagine they couldn’t tolerate a real heatup.  So this is very comforting to my mind, this map.

            When we look over here inland, towards the Palouse region, you’re looking at roughly a doubling of days over 86.  So if you’ve been in Kennewick for the summer, that’s the kind of warm summer we’re going to see throughout the larger region here.  Kennewick itself will also experiencing this warming trend, but adding only maybe two more weeks to that warm summer.  And this is not such bad news for the Palouse here, we know that we’re expecting changes in line with parts of the region’s historical reality.  In the Midwest, I often have to tell folks that we’re expecting a shift where the changes will be large enough so by 2050 their home will feel more like their neighboring state to the south does today.  That’s relatable, it’s not terrifying, but it is talking about a real shift in local character that I do not believe we are seeing within the Palouse as a whole.

            So we really see the strength of Washington state that I mentioned at the beginning of the video.  The average changes are projected to be pretty small, especially compared to the country as a whole.

            And, we also start seeing the big challenge for the state.  Take for the eastern portion of the state, the winters will be as cold, but the summers will be hotter, implying, to my mind, a more extreme transition.  Let’s talk more about those extremes.  There will be more extreme, disaster-type changes in the state than have been seen historically.  That’s going to be true for heat and for cold.  There will be really bad heat waves, more summers like that bad one in 2021.  There will be strange freezes.

There isn’t a big average change predicted for precipitation, but there will be more intense rainfall when there is rain, and there will be longer periods of drought.  We also expect intensification of atmospheric rivers- they’re going to be more intense, and more frequent.  And as we saw up in BC this past year, that intensity can overwhelm our infrastructure.

That brings us to water.  There’s not a real concern about surface water being limiting towards the coast, but there are concerns about water limitations as we move towards the Palouse region.  The aquifers under that region are not as well characterized as I’ve seen in other places.  In fact, I’ve seen the peculiar claim made in many sources that it is impossible to characterize the aquifers of this region, which seems patently unlikely if not false when we look at the work the US Geological Survey has done elsewhere in the west.  Regardless, there’s a strong consensus that the aquifers here are being depleted faster than they’re replenishing, particularly the Grande Ronde aquifer, which is dropping about three feet a year, and provides water to Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Washington.  The universities in those cities are working actively to characterize and limit the problem, and are also doing some nice work to promote and popularize techniques to conserve and improve soil quality.

It’s worth noting that the aquifers in this region are not being depleted by agriculture, it’s home and consumer use that is driving the aquifer drop.  And people are trying to get on top of the problem, there’s increased awareness, and consumer use of aquifer water has decreased as awareness has gone up.  So we’re definitely looking at a community that has a healthy potential to respond to these changes, a community that will work together for their future.

Similar to other states, as it warms, we’re likely to see snowpack decrease, and that will cause changes in streamflow.  I want to show you a cool map on that topic:

            Page 14, climate change in Puget Sound- so cool for streamflow

            You can read a great local report: Climate Change in Puget Sound

            Now, I am going to behave myself.  I am not going to go on and on about every detail I read in this report.  You’re going to have to read it yourself so we don’t let Seattle totally dominate our time here.  But seriously, Seattle.  This is the coolest.  Your work is the best. 

            Now, backing up, branching out, as we think about the changing risk profile for this region, you might want more information.  And perhaps you don’t want to read what I am afraid is a fairly long and complicated report.  How about plain-English information that looks at problems and tries to solve them, AND you can read it like 5 minutes.  You want to check out this resource!

            Good resource: Adaptation Partners – Climate Change Adaptation Library for the Western United States

            This is an incredible way to answer questions for yourself, get a deep dive into practical strategies.  Let’s walk through it together, look at some important issues for Washington State- let’s talk about fish and soil.

            Okay, wrapping this up.  I don’t know about you, but when I saw there was hope for Puget Sound, that just made me want to cry.  The Hoh is among the most powerful places I have ever been.  And it feels fragile, like it could easily be lost to a warming world.  That there is still hope for the Hoh, that’s the most resonant thing I’ve learned, for me, in my time working on this project.  And let’s not forget.  The Palouse, huge agricultural area, really pretty nice average stability.  You looked on the map I hope, saw that the changes I described here hold for the whole interstate Palouse region.  You’re looking at extreme events, to be sure, you’re looking at serious challenges, but what a rich agricultural area we have here, that will continue to produce, and will probably be able to produce even more valuable crops than it does now.  Keep an eye on the water, and this part of the state could be a big part of the solution to the problems we’ll all face as agriculture shifts over the next twenty-thirty years. 

This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.  


South Dakota 2050 Forecast Script

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in South Dakota.  This is our first state-level forecast within the Northern Great Plains region, and let me tell you, I’m very excited.  This region is the only part of the US forecast to have a potential increase in agricultural productivity.  I hear that, I want to learn more.

Unless you care about agricultural productivity, you might not know much about this region, which has only 1.5 percent of the US population, but produces nearly 13% of our country’s agricultural market value.  And South Dakota’s agricultural production is booming. 

Now, of course, that also presents problems.  As we look at the South Dakota forecast, we’ve got a tension here, and that can be summed up as man vs bird.  While agricultural production goes up, as we see conversion within the state from grassland to cropland, that has a negative impact on what you might call wild bird production.  At least half of North American waterfowl- all your nice ducks, northern pintails, canvasbacks, blue-winged teal, pretty much you name it- they hatch in what’s called the Prairie Pothole Region.  South Dakota has historically had a lot of this habitat, but we’ll see how the agricultural production is decreasing that habitat, and how we might find a balance by restoring wetlands habitat in other states as market forces shift them away from staple crop production.

To understand this tension, we’ll start by looking at how water, weather, and seasonality are projected to change in South Dakota.  That’ll give us the framework we really need to understand the impact on crops and animals, let us think about some potential solutions to the problem.

The Northern Great Plains are a region where water is a limiting resource, and that’s true in South Dakota as well.  South Dakota, though, compared to regional neighbors, has a pretty good water outlook.  Groundwater and aquifer recharge rates are looking pretty good in most of the state, they’re projected to be sustainable given current dynamics around water extraction.  So that’s hopeful news already, South Dakota has water in the bank.  Now let’s look at how precipitation is projected to change.

And here, we can dig down into average changes in precipitation on page 960: Small changes except for southeast corner, and remember, variability will outweigh average changes.  Variability will be bad enough under RCP 4.5, from looking at the data, I’d rather not test it at 8.5.  If we can’t get emissions down to this moderate, doable RCP 4.5 scenario, we’re looking at serious, serious drough/deluge, to the point that the instability may largely offset increased production. 

Under the RCP 4.5 scenario we see no change in summer precipitation, but under the RCP 8.5 scenario summer rain will decrease substantially.  Regardless of emissions scenario, we’re talking about a 10 percent increase in winter/spring precip by 2050, most as rain not snow.  So, wet spring, with the planting difficulties that can entail.  We can also expect fewer days of hail as we approach mid-century, but that’s offset by the unfortunate fact that when you do get hail in South Dakota as we get towards 2050, it’s anticipated to be real big, very damaging. 

            Before we go on, it’s important to note again- because the feds make a point of saying this about seven times in the report, they want to make it very clear- that changes in extreme events will overpower average changes.  South Dakota is going to want to participate in regional water planning, and it’s worth acknowledging that there’s a lot of that good work happening in the state today.

Now let’s look at how the seasons will change.  We’ll look at the change in plant hardiness zones first, give you an idea of what to expect in the winters:

HARDI- big expansion of zone 5

And we can see here that the feds are predicting there will be fewer cool days.  954

Now, with zone 5 being still a pretty cold winter- you know, I live in a zone 5 region and you get days that freeze the inside of your nose in zone 5- there being fewer cool days indicates to me that when winter does come on, it’ll be coming on like a freight train.  Real intense shift in seasonality.

We can see here 954 that hot days are going to be increasing substantially.  And if we look at the USDA heat zone map:  HEAT

That really reinforces that image.  These summers, they’re going to be so different, it’s just going to be transformational for the landscape.  Pulling all this information together, we foresee that the growing season will be longer, the seasonal transitions are likely to be real intense, and the summer will be dramatically longer and hotter than anything we are used to in the region.

Anyone who likes growing things is going to see this change in the local climate and understand what this means.  As long as there’s water, there are going to be more plants here.  Dramatically more biomass, a bigger mass of plant growth.  We expect more total plants- and accordingly more total crops.  But we’ve got to remember that there will be more extreme weather events.  These extreme events could impact grain fill and pollination of staple crops, and some years they will.  But a plant that can get good vegetative growth here will have a gangbusters time.  Right now, that means a lot of weeds will enjoy themselves.  But thinking about how to capitalize on vegetative growth, I tell you, I’d be very interested in the emerging perennial grains for this area.  Cuts down the amount of spring planting you’d have to worry about, good for soil conservation, and if conditions are bad when they should be setting or filling grain, at least you get some plant growth, hopefully have plenty of energy for a great harvest next year. 

But, I’ll stop speculating on that, start speculating on another thing.  Because it’s also worth noting that more total plants will change the hydrology of the region- I have not seen this written about much, but anyone who knows plants, you would expect more water consumption, particularly in that summer heat.  As another consideration, if you get enough biomass, it’s going to cause changes to the local weather.  And those can be positive or negative.  Coming from an agricultural region of Iowa, I have personal experience with summer corn sweats, I would call those a definite negative.  You get weather systems that are driven by the respiration of the corn.  They’re pretty intense, hold a lot of humidity close to the ground in the region, and can actually negatively impact your ability to get a good honest rain.  But I hear that if you get good tree growth, you can get a positive feedback system going with the weather, get better, more even rains.

Okay, now I’m done speculating.  Let’s get back to the research. 

So this is a lot of information we’re taking in related to how different it will feel on the ground in South Dakota.  Really, pretty transformed in some ways, and the agricultural capacity will be transformed, but we need to remember that’s far from the only economic activity in the region.  Let’s get back towards that man-bird conflict.  Migratory birds are big business. In South Dakota alone, hunters spent $84.7 million in 2015–2016 on migratory bird hunting (in 2016 dollars; $83.9 in 2015 dollars).  These are dollars going into South Dakota communities, dollars supporting local culture and traditions.  When we think about this land use conflict, favoring either agriculture or hatching game birds, it’s worth remembering that both of these land use choices are major economic drivers right here in South Dakota.

And both of those choices have a lot of resonance with our values.  I think some people get the feeling that birds are, like, a fluffy cause, kind of a liberal cause.  But look at the facts on the ground.  Much of your habitat preservation, your work to save North America’s bird habitat, has come from the hunting community.  Both of my grandfathers loved to hunt birds.  Both of my grandfathers were involved in the move away from lead shot, both of them raised money for land preservation, and I donate to fish and game causes in their memories, keep the work going for another generation.  Hunting is a part of my family heritage, and part of my connection to the land.

Farming, the production of food, that’s also a huge moral value!  Farmers, every farmer I know, they’re driven by a desire to feed the world.  They don’t want people to go hungry.  And if you’ve got your eyes and ears open, you know that international hunger is going to be a big problem as we approach midcentury.  We probably won’t go hungry here in North America, we have a very favorable relative outlook here, but there will be tremendous hunger in the world.  Tremendous suffering.

So when we make these land use decisions, between crops and birds, there’s a lot going on emotionally.  Let’s look at the scale of the problem. 

Page 970: Grasslands conversion to cropland.  Shows SD biggest net loss

Right now, we can see South Dakota is choosing crops.  There in Eastern South Dakota, you can see that’s part of the Prairie Pothole Region.  And if you’ll remember from our precipitation data, I think we need to recall that this region with this very high conversion to cropland, it is the most impacted by precipitation uncertainty and concerns about flooding.

So, this area deep in the tension between birds and crops, if we do too much cropland conversion, there is a real tipping point where we’ll have diminishing agricultural returns.  We need a certain amount of those wetlands to be able to keep the cropland safe from massive flooding, wipe out the production for the year. 

There are folks in South Dakota taking a nice approach to finding this balance, taking a market-based approach.  There’s non-abstract value, practical value, in preserving the wetlands.  They provide ecosystem services, that’s a fancy way of saying they keep the floods down, they provide pollinators, those benefits we get from leaving some land wild.  So nonprofits are paying landowners and managers to provide those ecosystem services, to leave the land wild, to do restoration work.  I think that’s a great part of the solution.

Another part of the solution, another part of the balance, is that South Dakota can’t do it alone.  The Prairie Pothole Region, you can see it extends up into Canada, and some of that area, we’re going to have more potential to grow crops, too.  And we’re going to need to use some of that potential.  We have not known real hunger as a society for a long time, but farmers know.  We don’t want to go back there.

But, there are parts of the Prairie Pothole Region where conversion to grassland, away from cropland, is going to be more economically smart.  In central Iowa here, I see my neighbors already beginning to experiment with this.  There are places in the PPR where it’s time to do more wetlands restoration, more prairie restoration, because it’s getting too hot and too dry.  There are places in the larger PPR where we’re better off turning away from grain production before we wear out the soil, give South Dakota a turn to shine.

These state-level forecasts- a lot of us want to better understand how the changes that are coming are going to impact our homes and communities, and I feel like the state-level understanding -and resilience- is very important.  But we need to remember also that we’re connected.  That there are problems we can’t solve on our own, that we can’t solve just on a state level.  The ecosystem services provided by the Prairie Pothole Region, that’s a great example of a regional problem, a large-scale problem, that we’ll need to solve together as Americans. 

Let me tell you, there’s a lot in this South Dakota forecast I left out.  The work being done by the tribal nations to anticipate climate change- and look at this map, 955, look at how much of the state we’re talking about just by land area- the Flathead, the Lakota, the Cheyenne, all doing amazing work to prepare.  The InterTribal Buffalo Council, the work they’re doing to prepare for the buffalo herds to thrive in this changing climate, it’s so smart.  And I wanted to talk more about the oil and gas industry, share how this industry is likely to be quite negatively impacted by the changes in the region, and is projected to require a lot more water.  So, it’ll be good for the state in several ways as we undergo the energy transition.  We’re all going to need that water for living things, whether crops or birds.

But, I feel like I’ve been going on for a super long time.  There is literally not enough time for me to talk about all the reasons I am excited about South Dakota’s future.  Is the state facing challenges?  Of course.  We all are facing challenges.  But the overall outlook is very hopeful, and you’ve got people in the state really running to get on top of the challenges.  And this state, which has been so long overlooked, is a state that will be at the heart of the moral and practical problems facing us all.  It’s so important! 

If you’re smart, you’ll keep your eye on South Dakota.  I’m wishing you all the best.

This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.  


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