Appalachia Long-Range Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Appalachia.  Particularly, of course, our friends from the homesteading and permaculture subreddits, whose frequent requests have led me to do this unusual regional forecast.  There are a lot of cool people making a real go of it in this special region, this mountainous region, keeping old skills alive and learning new ones.  And all of you who wanted to know specifically about what’s going on here, you do have the right idea.  The forecast is distinct, there are details you need, and as should not surprise you there are no other resources I could find focused on your region’s climate projections.  So, I learned how to use some new tools, and I made some new maps for you folks.   

And before I get going, I just want to say I am a little nervous to do this forecast, because I know someone’s going to yell at me because I didn’t define this region like they wanted me to.  So, please!  I did my best!  There’s a difference between the broadly defined region, the cultural region, which you maybe agree with the Appalachia Regional Commission map here:

And the region with a distinct climate forecast, which is here:

Check this out, this band of cool running from Pennsylvania, all the way down here into northern Georgia.  This is the part of the country that has a special outlook when we’re looking at what’s going to happen with agriculture, and let’s take a look at that now.

For heat, right now we’re looking at the heat zone map, shows how many days a year you get over 86 degrees.  And this map we’re using as our starting point, that’s the number of hot days a year we’ve tending to have in the area since the 80’s.  So, it’s fairly recent historical data, within most of our lifetimes. 

And now let’s look into our projected future.  We’re going to check out the key, we’re going to look at high emissions to 2040, then low emissions at 2050.  That’s in line with current legislation, and I do think people are going to get real scared as we move through the 2020s, I do think we will be reducing emissions as planned.  And the reduced emissions scenario the government has planned for, it’s not that low, it includes the use of some fossil fuels, it’s not particularly radical or unachievable. 

So this should already be some exciting news for people interested in this region.  Nice conservation of the cool in the summer.  And I’ve got more good news coming up for you as we switch over to looking at the plant hardiness zones, let’s check that out.  Now, this is going to be slow for a second, because I’m going to walk you in to the plant hardiness zone map, and that’ll show you how to get back to the heat zone map, too.

So right now, this region, we’ve got plant hardiness zones from 5-7.  There’s going to be a shift.  We’re going to see a fair amount of that zone 5 shift up.  You can see that’s going to happen very soon, and I’ve heard some reports that it has happened in those marginal areas already, from plant people in those margins.  But, here’s the good news.  Let’s look at further projected changes.

Stable!  And we’re going to do something special here, we’re going to look out towards 2100, look at some worst case scenarios.  Stable!  My friends, this is such great news.  What’s coming, the big change, it’s one zone.  Plenty of plants, they can handle moving one zone up.  And then you are going to be good to go!  Even under the worst case scenario, you are going to be good to go!

You all know I love giving good news.  And this is about the best news I have gotten to give.  And it’s just for you folks in that special band, that narrow, climatologically distinct band.  And if you’re not sure if you’re in there, go back and watch how to get into the website for yourself, you can do it, and you can zoom down really close and check it out.  Just take it slow and give it time to load, even with good internet those close-focus maps are not going to load right away.

Now, I don’t want to sugar coat things.  If you live in these mountains, you are already aware that the weather in this place can be less than delightful.  You should be preparing for more extreme weather events.  There is a projection for increased hail potential at the northern end of this range, more frequent and larger hail.  Let’s check out the map for historic changes in precipitation towards the southern end of the range (760)

You see we’ve got this kinda line forming up, dry side and wet side of the mountains. The wet is red on this map, red is increase, blue is decrease.  Those trends are likely to continue, and you can see there’s been a really big change in how many of these big storms you get, dump 3+ inches of rain on you.  These deluges, they are already hurting communities in this region.  They’re killing people.  When we talk about extreme weather, I think we’re all coming to realize that can be deadly. 

So as you build resilience in your home and your community, that’s the thing for you to prioritize.  The ag zone and heat shifts, I think you can do it.  That’s not too big, there’s not too much of a shift coming at you there.  Lot of your landscapes will remain familiar landscapes.  But the big storms, up in the north the potential for big hail, that’s where you probably want to put your defensive energy.  Prioritize drainage.  There will be droughts as well as deluges, you might want to think about backup irrigation.  Think about how you will protect plants at sensitive times.  There are big challenges ahead.  And the shift for you all is coming soon, we’re talking in the next 10-15 years you will have completed a fair amount of your climate transition.  So please, dig in there, my friends, get ready.  You’ve got a really solid outlook, and I am rooting for you! 

You know, I love America when it is at its most distinctive, and I had the good fortune to spend time in these mountains, particularly in the Carolinas and in Georgia, with one of my dear teachers and mentors, Dr. Jon Dey.  He loved these mountains, and he taught me to understand appreciate their distinct and beautiful ecology.  Dr. Dey died about 9 years ago.  I thought about him a lot as I got ready to make this video.  He would have loved knowing that his special places were going to stay special, stay the way he loved them so.  And I’m so grateful for the gift he gave me, in learning to understand the natural world in this part of the country in a deep way.

Thanks for listening.  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.