This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all of our friends in Indiana! Let me say, I was not expecting a great outlook here, but I kept finding more and more things to change my mind. There are challenges ahead for the state, sure, but it’s very hard for me to see a future where Indiana is not going to have to change their motto. Right now, they say they’re the crossroads of America, but they’re very much going to be a destination. Let’s get into it.
HEAT Right now, if we look at summer heat, we see that it’s often fairly mild in Indiana, although humid. But when we look towards midcentury under the RCP 4.5 scenario, which is a very doable, moderate reduced emissions scenario, unfortunately we do see those fairly serious summer heat increases that are typical for the Midwest. However, I want to point out that Indiana has a pretty good relative forecast here. There are parts of Missouri, for example, that are looking at a 2 month increase in days over 86, there’s no part of Indiana looking at more than an additional month. The summer climate will feel different than today, it’ll be more like it is today around the Kentucky/Tennessee border. So while we’re talking hot, we’re talking change, it’s good not to make it any scarier in your head than it really is.
One of the big challenges that the federal government describes for the Midwest is extreme heatwaves, about 13 degrees over current highs, lasting for five days. There are concerns that these, in some parts of the Midwest, could be high mortality events, but they don’t have to be. This is very much the kind of situation, a heat emergency, where most of the danger is being caught flat-footed. And for you, Indiana, I am happy to report that your forecast extreme heat, your once a decade biggest heatwaves as we approach midcentury, are likely to have highs much closer to 100 degrees than 110. Unless you’re in the extreme southern end of Indiana, you are more likely to experience extreme discomfort than life-threatening danger from the projected increase in heatwave intensity. 100 degrees and humid is no joke, but as long as you’re not outside doing physical labor, most people will be okay. The fact that you’re likely avoiding life-threatening heat is going to push your state towards the top end of my Midwestern regional ranking, we’ll see where exactly Indiana will go on the list as I work my way through the region.
HARDI But, back to the forecast, Let’s take a look at winter temperatures through the lens of plant hardiness zones. Here, I’m happy to say, we’ve got good news again. While we do a see some shifts, with a vanishing of this small zone 5 region and an expansion of zone 7 up into the southern end of the state- and please note the heat island projected to form around Indianapolis- there’s a great conservation of zone 6, with a relatively protected climate near the shoreline. Take a look at Michigan, for example- much more change projected on their Lake Michigan shoreline than you are going to experience in Indiana.
And let’s look at the lake for a minute. Really mild trends in the lake itself on your shoreline, page 903. This is some nice news, but there are some challenges in your overall water outlook. It’s not that the state’s not going to have water. Let me say, your utility companies are actually pretty on top of the game, using good climate data to increase power and water capacity by midcentury. No, it’s not that you’re facing a water shortage, but you do have a problem with polluted water, with pollution from both agricultural and industrial sources. With how increasingly precious water will be across the country, working to step up your game on water quality now will likely pay off in the future.
That’s especially true because any runoff issues you have contributing to pollution are only going to get more intense. Indiana is part of the Midwest that is likely to see substantial increases in precipitation. I’ve seen figures ranging from 8-10 percent more winter/spring precipitation, with most of that falling towards the spring as rain. That can be a real challenge for planting, gives a little push in the direction of perennial crops. If you get a perennial crop in- and there are some really interesting things going on right now with the commercial development of perennial grains and legumes- you can avoid some of the unpleasantness of trying to find a dry enough time to plant in the spring every year.
So, winter-spring precipitation is forecast to go up, but summer precipitation is forecast to decrease. Your state is already using a lot of irrigation for agriculture, which is good, you’re kinda pre-adjusted to the likelihood that precipitation alone will be increasingly unlikely to meet your agricultural water needs.
These seasonal changes in the water patterns will mean that storing that excess winter/spring precipitation for use in the summer is going to become increasingly important. And that’s the sort of thing you can build some resilience for in your home, with simple rain barrel systems, and with rain gardens. Both of those home features help reduce runoff-related water pollution and help get water either into storage for later use, or into the ground in a healthy way, contributing to healthy aquifer recharge. Aquifers can be polluted by runoff, so this is a real concern, crucial to the state’s future success.
Let’s take a little time to think some more about plants, as we put all this information together. That conservation of the winter cold in much of the state is going to be good for your trees. That extra heat in the summer will stress them out, but if they’ve got that stable period to hold on to, that should help prevent a lot of the potential for mass tree death. At midcentury the projected vapor pressure deficit for plants, which is kind of a measure of how much water plants will be losing through their leaves to the heat, is a 20% increase to the east, 30% increase to the west. In the increased heat, it makes sense. Trees will of course need more water, as will all the plants, but like we’ve explored, the water outlook, while not without challenges, is pretty solid for the state.
If you’re looking for resilient plants for your place in Indiana, I want to take another opportunity to share this breakdown from the forest service. TREE ATLAS Here, we’re gonna navigate there together. A lot of the “new habitat” species recommended for the Midwest are, if you dig into it, new trees that could move right into southern and central Indiana. If you check out the urban areas link, you’re likely to find a species list pre-tailored right for your city.
I was looking at some maps all stacked together and the area around and north of Terra Haute, which is nice mixed forest and agricultural area, I would look at that area as having particularly good potential. Check out the heat map to see the outline of the area, there’s a zone around Terra Haute that’s already kinda warm in the summer. Right in that area, there’s really nice preservation of all of your change factors relative to other places in the state, and other places in the Midwest. Don’t get me wrong, it’s gonna change, but we’re talking about relatively little change, relatively manageable change.
And that’s not a bad summary for the state as a whole. Indiana, you’ve got your problems, particularly related to water management and water quality, but I found a ton of evidence that you’re already working on those problems. Real nice evidence of forward-thinking in your infrastructure, I was impressed. Your state is preparing for an increase in population, and you should be, because you have got one solid outlook. And you have a delightful absence of particularly deadly new threats. No huge wildfire hotspots, no looming desertification, probably no deadly heatwaves. You’ll have challenges with extreme weather, both with water and wind storms, and you’ll have associated challenges with flooding, as we often do in the Midwest, but no emergent deadly threats? Maybe it sounds like a low bar, but it makes you look great by comparison to SO many other states, including other states in the Midwest. There are a lot of people in the Southwest and along the Gulf and MidAtlantic coasts who are going to be looking for places to go by 2050. Indiana might not be on people’s radars as a destination now, but it should be. Good place for investment.
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.