Alabama 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Alabama!  This is the first state-level forecast I’m doing inside the southeastern region, which if you’ve checked out that regional forecast, you know we’re facing a particularly challenging regional outlook.  I don’t want to sugar coat things for you, everything we’re going to talk about I’m going to do my best to be realistic and look at the hard parts head on and in the context of historical data.  There are challenges here, and there are ways to face those challenges. 

We’re going to look at some projections for 2050 around day and nighttime temperatures, where we’ve got a pretty high level of detail, we’ll talk about precipitation, where unfortunately our detail is low.  But we can look at historical trends, and we’ll use that information to help us understand the impact we’re looking at in the projected agricultural zone change.  As we kinda build up that landscape, we’re going to check in on the gulf coast, see how changes in the sea level will impact that landscape.  Then after we’ve put that picture together, we’ll look at how these changes will impact human health and our working lives.

First, let’s check out this historical data, what’s been happening lately (759).  You’ll note there’s this increase in warm nights in the state- most of the warming we’ve seen in this part of the world, it’s more a lack of cooling than flat out warming.  You can see the total number of hot days have decreased.  But the federal reports, they say that their models indicate we’re going to start seeing even more of those warm nights, here’s the projections on 763.  At 2050, you can see that the projected futures are pretty close together, and that we are looking at substantially increased temperatures across the state.  Unfortunately, you can see that we have the potential for a particularly hot pocket right here over Montgomery. 

With precipitation, there have been historical increases in heavy precipitation events, and we’re projecting that there will be more of those heavy precipitation events.  This map we’re looking at here on 760, we should expect that it will intensify.  If you’re already seeing them, those intense rainstorms, you will see more of them.  And we should prepare for drought, more periods without rain, in between those intense storms.  So managing the water, the drainage, the storage, those are all important parts. 

And as anyone who cares about plants knows, those very intense precipitation events, they’re challenging for the plants, whether you’re talking about a conventional crop or more of a plant community.  The increased temperatures, they’re likely to push you up about 1 agricultural zone by 2050.  779 Not huge, but notable.  And the way we farm and garden will change, not just because of the different species we might choose to introduce, but because of those water stresses we anticipate.  There will be substantial advantages for plants that can tolerate high levels of water stress. 

Now, speaking of water, trying to manage water stress, let’s go look down at the gulf coast.  We’re going to use the NOAA sea level rise viewer, take a good look here.  I don’t think anyone who lives on the gulf coast is expecting rosy projections, and let’s keep in mind that these maps show sea level rise, not storm surge.  So as we’re looking at more rapid intensification of hurricanes in the gulf, you can imagine this is going to show you how much further inland that storm surge can push large amounts of water.  We’ve got a varying forecast here for our coastal Alabama communities.  The worst of it is here, by Bay Louis, where we see communities will need to move due to direct inundation.  In other areas, we can see some more paths forward for building resilience.  The water, it’s rising into what was our safety net here, what was the area protecting us from storm surge, and thinking about how we might make that more resilient, how we might increase the storm surge protection to offset this land loss, it’s a serious engineering challenge.  It’s nice to have a concept of where the coastline is going to shift, and to remember that this area, it’s always been beautiful, and it’s always been changing.  This part of the gulf coast, by Louisiana and Alabama, I think all of us who love this part of the country accept that it’s dynamic.  The coastline changes, and this area all really belongs to the sea, we just get to use it for a while sometimes.  So I think we can look at these changes, we can look ahead, and we don’t need to freak out about them like people maybe ought to be doing in New York, where we’re seeing projected intrusion of the ocean waters into areas no one might have expected.  In this area, I think this is not the same kind of surprise, and I think we will find ways to continue to enjoy these areas well into the future.

Speaking of that sort of human issue, those quality of life issues, I want to show that there are some health concerns that should be highlighted for Alabama related to tropical disease and heat stress.  You can see here that there’s a serious risk of incursion from a new type of mosquito, you may have already seen this guy, aedes agyptie. 764  As we’re planning water infrastructure, looking at sea level rise and increased heavy precipitation, minimizing the habitats for this guy is a very serious concern.  They carry all the worst diseases.  But if we can think about them, prepare to stop them, we can minimize the damage- this is a threat that could get worse, or we could work to stop it now. 

In our working lives, the changes in precipitation, and particularly humid precipitation, they indicate that we are likely to lose a substantial amount of working hours in the south, and Alabama is one of the states that is hardest hit.  789 There are temperatures where you just can’t work outside without threats to your health, and that’s going to impact a lot of people we need- utility workers, agricultural workers.  There might be a need to shift more essential work into the night, take a different pace to the day, as we have seen in some latin American and mediterranian countries.  There’ll need to be changes, but it doesn’t have to be so bad- the way we change the patterns of our lives, they can add to the quality of our lives.  The countries that practice siesta now, they really like it, and that might be a way to consider shifting our American culture and practices in some states. 

So, let’s wrap this up.  The forecast is rough, but when I say it’s rough, I’m not saying it’s not manageable.  As Alabama becomes an increasingly tropical state, there’s going to be a need to develop a more tropical appropriate infrastructure, an infrastructure that can handle the drainage needs of extreme storms, and probably to develop a more tropical working culture.  Let’s get serious here.  We read alarming news, and we can react in a panicky way, we can react in an anxious way, or reject it, or we can look at it in the context.  This is a state that has historical heat, humidity, and some challenges with tropical disease.  This is a state where this transition towards tropical isn’t a huge abrupt transition, it’s not like you’re in Nebraska and now you’re going to grow palm trees on your porch.  This is a state where if we see where the science says we’re likely to go, we can get there.  There are some places we’ve identified today that are particularly vulnerable, and there are some places where we’ll need to build some more resiliency.  And that building, that right there is our challenge.  That is our opportunity.

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.