Southern Great Plains 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and we’ve got your 2050 climate forecast for the Southern Great Plains.  This region has been defined in the government reports as three states:  Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.  Texas is our most populous state in this region, and Texas has the challenges that come with the coastline, so we’ll be spending a little more time on those issues.  But for the region in general, our most important challenges for 2050 revolve around water and infrastructure. 

Now, both of these challenges, water and infrastructure, are going to need to be considered in the context of longer summers.  In Kansas and Oklahoma, by 2050 we’re projected to be looking at a week or so more of 100 degree days every summer.  In Texas, particularly in the southern half of the state, it’s going to be closer to a couple weeks more of that extreme heat by 2050.  Please note there are a couple of protected pockets in Texas.  It’s not looking so rough in Central Texas, or up by Marfa and Alpine.  But if we don’t take action to reduce emissions, by 2100 much of Texas, compared to today, will see 90-100 more days a year over 100 degrees.  Really, really hot projections for Texas if we don’t reduce emissions.

Let’s look at that water challenge.  There’s not a lot of change projected for future rainfall, in terms of the total water that’ll fall on the area, but the water is likely to be concentrated in more of those extreme storms.  With these storms being more extreme, there’s going to be more space between them, so you’re looking at a trend towards lower soil moisture, and that is going to have a lot of impacts on land use and agriculture. 

Those decreasing trends with the soil moisture mean that everyone’s going to be thinking about groundwater, and that’s where you’re really on the crux of the problem.  The Ogallala aquifer is your dominant water source in a lot of the region, across all three states, and it’s already being overused.  Especially towards the southern end of the Ogallala’s range, you’re looking at it running dry or so low as to be unusable by 2050.  The Edwards aquifer in Texas is also in rough shape.  There’s some good news.  Kansas, by and large the aquifers are gonna be okay where you are.  Kansas has good potential for continued groundwater use.  And speaking for the whole region, there’s a lot more awareness of the fact that these resources are precious and limited, and there are many groups working on ways to recharge the aquifers.  But none of that changes the problem that water is tight in the region, and you all might know that water to the west of the region is a real problem, a much more serious problem. 

The Southern Great Plains region currently imports a fair amount of food from Arizona, and Arizona is looking at water cuts in the next couple of years.  Power, water, food; the Southern Great Plains is in a tight relationship with Southwestern states around these crucial factors, and the Southwest is going to be hurting.  That’s a really serious part of the infrastructure challenge the Southern Great Plains will face, is a need to shift resources and relationships in the face of changing national resource availability.

Continuing to look at these complex, these interrelated infrastructure problems, let’s talk about the coast for a minute.  For Texas, we’re got water issues related to a lot of nationally vital coastal infrastructure.  A lot of our nation’s power relies on Texan coastal infrastructure, and I am not happy to report that on the gulf coast we are looking at twice the projected sea level rise of other parts of the US.  On the Texas gulf coast, it could be 2, 3 feet by 2050.  Really extreme.  The feds project that over 30 billion in developed property will be under the high water mark by 2050. 

So that’s pretty shocking.  Add some storm surge on top of that, you could be looking at an event that threatens our nation’s ability to refine petroleum and natural gas.  You could be looking at an event that critically impacts our nation’s strength and security.  We should all be concerned.

For those of us near the gulf, it’s important to really take in the reality that we are likely to see more of these real intense hurricanes.  As the gulf warms, we see more hurricanes undergo that rapid intensification.  You could be looking at a Cat 2 one day, no big worries, no plans to leave town, and then you wake up the next day and it’s a Cat 4 or 5.  You don’t have time to plan then.  You have to have done it ahead of time, you have to build the emergency response into the system, for our homes, for our communities, and for our critical national infrastructure. 

Because it’s not like the hurricanes just impact Texas.  The whole region, the whole country, is going to be in pain when Texas is in pain.  You’re not going to get the flow of goods in and out of the Port of Houston, you’re going to feel it at the pump and with your utility bills, it’s a big deal.  Finding ways to redistribute these resource loads, and to guard and build resilience for our coastal resources, these are critical projects.  They don’t have easy answers, and they don’t have the kind of solutions where a person can do it alone.  All of the good solutions, we’re going to need to be able to rely on one another, really work as a team.  We can do it, and we need to start now.

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