Arizona 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Arizona!  This is a state with a personal connection for me, I have family and friends there, and I did my doctoral work at ASU.  So I have to tell you, it does not give me any pleasure whatsoever to deliver this particularly rough forecast.  As we’ve been going around the four corners region, we saw some real bright spots in the future for Colorado.  Colorado has the most positive water and power outlook in the southwestern region.  When we looked at New Mexico, we learned some interestingly positive facts about the groundwater, even as we had to acknowledge that the climate outlook for the state is very challenging. 

For Arizona, I think the best thing I can say is that if you are a real Arizona person, a real desert person, and you are sick of all these people from California moving in, and you are sick of all the golf courses, and all the lawns, you are going to like this forecast.  Let’s get to the details.

Now I’m sure you are aware in Arizona we are several years into a very severe drought.  There was a fabulously enormous rainstorm this year, dropped a year’s worth of rain in a day, and that helps for sure, but we are looking at a long term drought forecast, and it’s a serious drought forecast.  The probability is high that this drought we are facing is the cyclic drought that this part of the world faces every few hundred years, and that the cyclic drought is being intensified by climate change.  The majority of Arizona’s water is surface water, we see that water when we look at the CAP canal.  All that surface water that is under real stress.  There are water reductions declared for next year, 2022.  It’s happening now.  These cuts are going to be devastating for farmers in Pinal county, who will be losing about half of their water supply.  But there’s no way we can supply everyone their full water allotment.  There’s just not enough water to go around. 

Drought 1116

The drought, the drought would be a problem all on its own. But it’s a bigger problem when we look at the increased temperatures, and increased hot-season length, that are being forecast for the state.  Check this out first, this is our historical changes in temperature, where you can see this area here, by Yuma, and kinda up into the Phoenix metro area, have already increased in temperature over the last hundred years.  Around 2 degree increase, most of that area. 

Current temp increase 1117

And then we look at how much more heat we’re going to get, you gotta check out this figure with projected increases in hot days. (1139)  That heat is coming for you, Tuscon, two months more hot season, and I am sorry to say it.  You can see up here in Navajo Nation, maybe another 5 weeks of hot season a year.  At least another month of it in the Phoenix area.  The mountains, the heat won’t be as bad, it never is, but look how tight those margins are around the mountainous areas.  Those little sky islands, they are going to be very isolated ecosystems indeed.  Flagstaff, you can see that you’re not going to escape this warm-up entirely, probably looking at a couple of weeks of extra heat even for you, a couple extra weeks above 90 every year. 

Current hot day increases 1139

All this heat, all these big increases in extreme heat, this is going to have a huge impact on our agricultural zones.  (1137) We are talking shifts of up to 4 agricultural zones, folks.  That is wild.  We are talking some of the most dramatic shifts in the entire nation.  Let’s look down here, by Yuma.  If you eat salad in the winter, you are almost certainly eating produce that was grown right there, in Yuma, Arizona, and look at that shift.  I wish I had good data on how winter high temps will be impacted by these changes, but I don’t.  It certainly seems like the growing season for winter crops will be shorter with these big shifts here, like 3 zone shifts, and that it’s probably worth looking into crops that are bolt-resistant.  And check it out here, up by Flagstaff.  Total ecosystem shift in the foothills, which were much cooler regions, really distinctive and to me a very pretty part of the state.  Almost the entire state is losing that hard freeze in the winter, and substantial portions of the state are likely to lose even mild frost.  Under these projections, it will not freeze in substantial portions of the state.  Any freeze at all, any frost at all, would be kind of a freak event.

This is going to have dramatic impacts on ecosystems in the state.  In your forested parts of the mountains, these hot dry conditions are likely to cause substantial tree death, and there will be substantial risks for wildfire.  I think we’ve already been seeing that trend.  Plant communities across the state will change. 

Big projected ag zone shifts 1137.  Up to 4 zones, some of the most dramatic shifts in the country.

Now, with all this heat, you want to make sure you can keep the air on.  And we are looking at some projected drops in power in the state:

Energy drop ~15% 1134

So there’s a need for an infrastructure tune-up, and a need for some energy independence.  I would not want to need to rely on anyone else to keep my home cool, this is a perfect region for solar, it’s a great place to get a solar backup in place.  And decentralized solar would make up for a lot of this projected drop in power generation that’s a result of the increased heat.

But let’s take a minute, let’s bring this all together.  The water issues this state is facing are very serious, and they’re likely to get worse.  If you want to be in Arizona for the long term, you’re going to want to think hard about how you could cultivate some water security.  The surface water’s not looking good, and the groundwater in Arizona has dropped very seriously, particularly in southern Arizona.  If you want to be in Arizona for the long term, you’ve got to love it hot.  You’ve got to love it dry.  You’ve got to love the desert, and really care about being there sustainably with the desert. 

There’s a future for Arizona, for the cities of Arizona, but it’s going to be different, with a need for much more serious water conservation on every level.  But knowing what’s ahead, that’s the first step towards getting what we need to get ready for the changes.  So I hope this forecast gives you information you need to make decisions about your life, as we move towards 2050.

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.