Arkansas 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Arkansas!  We’ve got a strong community of people with homesteading skills growing in Arkansas, people doing a lot of good work to care for the land and to care for themselves.  Let’s see how the state is looking as we move towards 2050.

The federal reports group Arkansas with the Southeast, so let’s see what we can figure out from their maps. 

Looking at the historical data, here  757, we can see there’s been a real increase in precipitation in Arkansas. Strong trend throughout the state, with the exception of the big elevation change here, as you hit the edge of the mountains.  There, you’ve got a dry side and a wet side, and you can see the dry side there, in blue, which I’ve complained about before, that always throws me off that red here is increase in precipitation. 

If we look at nighttime warming trends on page 756, we can see that those mountains, both the Ouachita and Ozarks ranges, are still staying cool at night, but that in the rest of the state we’ve got a fair amount of nighttime warming occurring over the last hundred years.  Now, in the southeast, we’ve often seen that these increasingly warm nights are going to cause problems, let’s look at the projections here:

We can see on 762 that Arkansas has always had some warm nights, down in the lower elevation areas, but let’s get real close in on 763 here, the projected warm nights for 2050 under a reduced emissions scenario.  We can see that there is pretty good conservation in the mountains, not a lot of change, but as you get towards the Mississippi delta there, you’re looking at quite warm nights, really substantial changes. 

So, we expect a very warm, humid summer in that area already, but if you’re in that lower elevation part of Arkansas, you should expect that to be getting kind of next level as we move towards 2050.  We see some distinct heat island effects in the cities, too, looks to be getting quite high, the nighttime temperatures in Little Rock.  So this means people are going to want to have the air on more, and not just to be comfortable.  We’re definitely talking about the kind of nighttime heat where access to air conditioning is going to be important for public health.

But, if you’re up in those mountains- and I know from your emails and messages that quite a few of our friends in Arkansas are- these should be some encouraging maps so far.  Those cool nights, those are very important for plant growth during the warm summers of this region.  When it gets over 85, 90, many important crops, like corn and soy, they start to see real losses in production.  Not a big problem when you have a cool night, they do their growing at night.  But down in the delta region, if you have a prolonged time where it doesn’t get below that temperature even at night, you’re looking at some real serious potential for crop failure, definitely yield decreases. 

We’re talking about nighttime temps, though, let’s take a look at projected increase in summer daytime temperature and summer duration.  HEAT.  You can see that today, looking at contemporary historical data, even up in the Ozarks you see a fairly warm summer, few months over 86, and that it gets quite warm as you get down to the Mississippi.  As we look towards midcentury, there’s an usually clear heatup, you can see that almost every place shifts one color warmer, meaning another month of daytime summer heat.  The big exception is the mountains, where we can see in both major ranges that substantial areas will see a two month increase, with the most preservation of a cooler summer in the Ozarks.  Let’s look back and forth a few times, make sure you can see the vulnerable parts of the Ozarks, the parts where you would expect the heat to become dramatically more intense.

Those areas, you’re going to have some serious concerns about tree health, about forest health.  But let’s check the winter temperatures, through looking at the projected changes in the plant hardiness zone, get a little more information before we think about our threat level for wildfires.

Right now in Arkansas we’re looking at zones 6, 7, and 8.  And we can see we’re losing zone 6, fairly big movement northward in the state of zones 7 and 8.  That zone 8 shift, zone 8 is moving to cover a number of your cities.

As I see this map, I remember the places in the Ozarks that are seeing more of a two month increase in summer heat, and I see that they are also looking at a winter zone shift from 6 to 7.  So unfortunately, in those two areas, I would say we are talking about a very high level of stress on your forests, on your tree populations, and I would be quite concerned about wildfire.  Particularly in this quite populated corridor, with Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville, there’s going to be more people living kind of up against the forests.  And that’s the situations we have seen in the west, in California, where destructive wildfires can really cause damage to life and property.

Fortunately, we can learn from what has been happening in the west, and work to build resilience against wildfire.  Controlled burns can be a very important tool in managing this changing landscape, and looking at making fire-safe areas around houses and property, keeping fire in mind when you sculpt the landscape around your home, these are methods that have been found to make a big difference.

There looks to be a little more climactic stability in the Ozark national forest, so hopefully we won’t get big wildfires there. 

Before we wrap this up, it’s worth noting that there were almost no references to Arkansas in the federal report.  But Fayetteville, they have a very nice state-oriented resource collection, you might want to check out. 

This bit here on changing tick habitat, the probability is very high that ticks will establish themselves throughout the state, and you do also have a pretty good chance of these new mosquitos establishing themselves.  So these are several new serious insect-borne diseases you’ll want to be able to recognize.  Lyme disease is very treatable if you treat it early, but it can have serious long-term effects if it’s not treated.  The tropical diseases carried by this new variety of mosquito, everyone is going to be much more scared by these disease if they’re not on your radar, if you’re not considering them as a diagnostic possibility. 

Let’s wrap this up.  In Arkansas, you are looking at high levels of change.  I know there are many people hoping to get securely established in the mountain areas, from this information I think you can get a clearer idea of what areas in the mountains will see less relative change, and which will see more.  The state as a whole, we’re looking at hotter, more humid summers, and milder winters by 2050.  Particularly down by the Mississippi, you’re going to need people to have access to cooling for these hotter summers, because the nights are not going to cool down as well as they used to. 

As you think about preparedness, you are going to want to evaluate the wildfire risks in your area, particularly if you’re near those parts of the mountains that are seeing unusually high rates of change, that are getting warmer faster than other parts of the state.  You’ll also want to keep an eye towards insect-borne disease, be aware that biting insects, like ticks and mosquitos, are likely to really increase throughout the state.  It’s interesting to know that as you make a home fire-safe, as you get a decent margin around the home away from tall grass and other vegetation, you also are making that home much safer from ticks. 

So, some real challenges in the state, but there are tested strategies that can help build resilience to these challenges.  And we have been able to highlight the parts of the state that are looking at a more conserved climate.  If you’re in an area that is anticipating a lot of change, anticipating a shift towards zone 8, you’ll want to think about plants that don’t rely on a nighttime cooling period for growth.  That’ll help you get ahead of the changes. 

As you’re thinking about the agricultural future of the state, don’t get too discouraged.  You’re gonna need to be tough, you’re going to need to be open to change, and you need to be open to opportunity.  As we move towards 2050, every agricultural outlook has to be informed by the probable serious decrease in table crops from the southwest, and the value of zone 8 and 9 areas with adequate water, such as you have in your state.  In Arkansas I’m sure you want to know about the outlook for rice under these 2050 conditions.  I went way down the rabbit hole looking at rice, and considering your high humidity, it’s really quite unclear if you’ll have a problem with rice.  Studies that included high humidity with high nighttime temperatures, they found pretty good growth in rice.  It’s looking quite possible we will be able to continue very successful rice growing in Arkansas under these changing conditions.  Not a great outlook for soy, you see decreased pod fill under the projected conditions, but change doesn’t have to be bad.  Hopefully this video helped get you information you need as you start to think, get some ideas for how you can harness these changes in the decades to come.

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.