This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Oklahoma! There’s a lot of expertise from Oklahoma represented in the federal resources, from your state’s well-recognized climate office, to the USDA’s regional climate hub in El Reno, to everything going on in Norman. And that’s a powerhouse over there in Norman, includes the Department of the Interior and NOAA’s regional hubs as well as all the other incredible work going on at the University of Oklahoma.
Some of our coastal friends might wonder, why is there so much going on in Oklahoma? Oklahoma is a major energy hub and a major agricultural producer, and as we look at the 2050 forecast for the nation as a whole, we see Oklahoma emerge as an absolutely critical point for building resilience. Not gonna sugar coat it, the state is facing big challenges. But in this state we can see incredible resilience emerging, just a full-throated response to those challenges. For Oklahoma, every threat I found, the state already has eyes peeled.
Let’s talk about the weather. The weather in Oklahoma has never been what you might call pleasant, this is the plains, this is an extreme environment. We’ve always had drought and hail and deluges in this state, and they’re only getting worse. In the last ten years, Oklahoma has seen just crazy storms. Huge rains that have washed out highways, big impacts on infrastructure. And Oklahoma has also seen very severe drought in recent years, particularly in the panhandle.
You might be familiar that this state has pretty dramatic variation in precipitation from east to west across the state- you can see the current cline here, in this map from the feds (1000). This difference is projected to become more extreme, but there’s not a total decrease in precipitation projected for the region. So the west will get pretty darn dry, and the east will need to plan for storms that will drop very serious amounts of rain on a more or less regular basis.
Water issues are crucial for this state. The western part of the state in particular, we have a lot of use of the Ogallala for water, and that’s not going to be sustainable for agriculture. The Oklahoma Water Plan indicates that water use projections in Oklahoma are expected to increase over the next fifty years, by 21% for municipal use, 22% for agricultural use, and 63% for energy use. So when we think about moving towards 2050, water conservation and water management are really critical for the state’s resilience. Managing those heavy rains and finding ways to use the water in the east, managing and conserving water in the west, they’re both totally essential. But, in many ways, the state is going to have what it needs. This isn’t a real grim picture, it’s not a bad drought picture like we see further west. This is a water story with potential.
The extreme storms in this area, it is accurate and unheated to call them life-threatening , both historically and today. As we move towards 2050, preparing for the storms to increase in intensity is another resilience priority. Fortunately for the state, you all are already building incredible weather resilience. You’re tracking these extreme storms closely with a state-funded agricultural weather network, the Oklahoma Mesonet. I want to show you this page, it is really nice. http://mesonet.org/ Thanks to the Mesonet, you can get really good info on where and when storms will hit, very important for preparedness when you’re talking about life-threatening weather.
It’d be one thing if a population with no exposure had to face these storms, but on the plains, we already know we have to build and live with extreme weather in mind. These weather trends, they’re a serious matter, but it is less concerning when we’re dealing with differences in degree rather than differences in kind. It’s a better position, it’s a little easier when we already have a basic familiarity with a threat, and have some cultural understanding of how to deal with the threat.
Now, looking at the summer heat projections, it’s not so different in tone from the weather projections. We know Oklahoma has a hot summer, and it’s getting hotter, but we’re talking about more moderate projected increases than I’ve seen in many other states. Here’s a map showing the increase in extreme heat, days over 100, on page 990. And let’s look at the USDA heat map, get another picture of our overall change. HEAT- heating pretty evenly across the state, looking at increase from 120 to 150 hot days a year.
Now, with this increased heat, you are talking about serious potential for increased aridity, for a shift towards desert. Particularly in the panhandle, you’re looking at potential for desertification and soil loss, and it’s not as if these are unfamiliar threats for the region. Working to conserve soil is going to be very important here, and the state extension office is on top of these issues, https://extension.okstate.edu/topics/index.html, you can see there they are promoting fire-based land management, very healthy. I was looking through their soil section, they’re doing outreach to convince people to put cover crops on construction sites, that’s a really smart practice I haven’t seen promoted in this context before. Very nice.
With the increased aridity, there is an increased potential for wildfire. Oklahoma has seen some big wildfires in the last ten years. There are ways to build resilience to wildfire. We can see some ways the extension office is working to help promote fire for land management, the healthy use of fire. That’s going to be a crucial tool for reducing wildfire and managing this changing landscape.
There’s also a lot of fire-resilience we can build with the landscaping choices around homes and in suburban areas. Making fire-safe areas around homes, that can make a big difference when it comes to protecting life and property. As we build resilience in this state, spreading the word about the increase in wildfire and the need to plan for it, that’s probably one of the biggest challenges people are facing that they might not know about. Worth bringing up in conversation.
Let’s take a minute to look at projected changes in the winter. We do that through looking at changes in plant hardiness zones, which of course, a fellow agricultural state, we all want to know if we’re looking at a change in zones. HARDI- going from 6/7 to 6/7/8. The majority of the state will experience no change in agricultural zone, not bad at all. Almost all of Oklahoma’s cities will experience no change in agricultural zone, which is kind of unique. I gotta say, not bad, pretty good winter stability considering the changes I’ve seen south and north of this state. Oklahoma is kinda falling in a sweet spot here, nice relative stability.
Wrapping this all up, I’ve gotta say, this is one of the forecasts where I learned the most. The regional forecast for the Southern Great Plains is so challenging, I kinda expected a rougher ride for Oklahoma than I found. For sure, this state is not a place for the faint-hearted, but it never has been. Like I said earlier, life-threatening weather is the baseline in this area. Considering that, the outlook just isn’t that bad, particularly for the central part of the state. Not a whole lot of change.
If you’ve been watching this channel for a while, you’ve probably seen that most of our other energy hubs are projected to be pretty much FUBAR by midcentury. Oklahoma’s energy infrastructure is so important to our national wellbeing and security today, but in the face of the projected changes? We should all be relieved to see this great resilience potential in the Oklahoma forecast. The world’s largest oil-storage tank facility is in Cushing, Oklahoma, with 13% of US storage, and there’s a lot of pipeline convergence in Oklahoma. There are more earthquakes in the area lately. I don’t want to not mention that trend, but neither is that really a phenomena that falls under the climate outlook.
We need to reduce emissions, but we will still be using fossil fuels for energy under the moderate emissions scenario. And no matter what technological advances arise, the expertise of the energy professionals in this state will continue to be crucial to our nation. Also, and this is me just spitballing here, we have seen the huge need the southwest is going to have for water. Up by the Great Lakes, we’re going to have even more water than we do now, kinda too much water. Seems to me not implausible that we could use some people who know how to manage a giant national network of pipes that channel a critical fluid resource.
Thanks, Oklahoma. You all are giving me hope. 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.