Nebraska 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all of our friends in Nebraska.  My great-great-grandmother, Lena Rae Olmstead, was a homesteader in Nebraska.  I grew up looking at the skin of an enormous rattlesnake that, according to family legend, she shot from her front porch.  According to what I’ve heard, Lena Rae was one of the rare lone female homesteaders.  She developed her own land, and later married into the McAllister family. 

My ancestor was motivated by the hope of Nebraska, and let me tell you, this state is a source of hope now.  This state is one of the very few in the US projected to have increased potential for agricultural productivity.  This forecast will give you information you need to get on top of the changes that are coming.  Get ready to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the state of Nebraska.

Winter outlook, not at all the biggest shift we’ve seen.  We see conservation of zone 5 in much of the state.  Looks like our more densely populated corner here will be shifting to zone 6.  So, still cold enough to snow, but it will be milder, and you may see less consistent snow cover than you’ve had in the past.  In that projected zone 6 area, we can expect that the winters will be more like the winters in, say, Kansas City today, you can see when we go back to the contemporary map.

In the summers, Nebraska is unfortunately looking at projections for a very serious heatup.  Used to be you were expecting at most 60-90 days over 86 in the summer for this state, now we’re talking about a maximum of 120 days over 86 a year.  You can see this region of extreme warming is expected to pass all the way through the heart of the country, get all the way up into South Dakota.  What this means for Nebraska is a fairly serious amount of stress on your plant communities.  Say you’re in an area that used to be in that light mint color, the projections show light red, your area is looking at a literal doubling of potential hot summer days.  Twice the summer season.

So you can imagine, of course, that means an increase to the growing season.  It’ll also mean an increase in your demand for electricity, as more people want the air on for a substantially longer part of the year.  So, you’ll want to strengthen your grid, and with the extreme storms coming, you’ll want to think about making your electrical systems resilient and localizable.  I’ve found some good indications that Nebraska is working on exactly those problems, working hard on getting ready.

Let’s drill down into the federal data to get you some nice information as to how much of a growing season increase we expect, and if that long summer also indicates an big increase in extreme heat.

In the National Climate Assessment, Nebraska is in the Northern Great Plains region.  And that’s nice for you, because they gave a lot more nice visual information for that region than the states that got put in the Midwestern region.  Let’s check out this visual for projected changes in extreme temperatures and precipitation by midcentury. 

This one here, if we remember we were talking about 120 days over 86, we get some nice additional data here- only a month or so of those warm days are expected to be really hot. Nice.  And you can sure see in these visuals why we want to go for the RCP 4.5 pathway.  That is a reduced emissions pathway, but it’s a pathway that assumes a natural pace of change for greener energy, transitioning over the next twenty years.  Not a pathway where everyone changes everything they do overnight, so I think it’s a pretty realistic scenario, and you can see that the outcomes for Nebraska are far better under RCP 4.5 than the RCP 8 scenario.

Look at the cooler days expected.  We can see a decrease of 2-3 weeks where you’d be expecting to deal with a hard frost.  That is a substantial projected growing season increase.  There’s where you’re going to get additional potential increase in agricultural productivity, that precious hope that we find in the Northern Great Plains.  And Nebraska can be a big part of that, particularly on the 4.5 pathway, where we aren’t projected to get the kind of summer heat that will substantially decrease agricultural productivity.

On this last little part of the figure here, let’s check out the precipitation patterns.  This is for those big storms that dump a lot of water in a short time, those deluge rains.  You can see that, as we’d expect with the current precipitation cline to the state, we’ll be getting more of those extreme rains towards the eastern edge of the state, and you may notice there’s a bit of a focus over what happens to be the more populated areas.  So we’re going to need to think about controlling water- preventing runoff, preventing flooding.  We expect variability in precipitation in this state to be a problem.  Finding ways to get those heavy rains safely back into the ground, back into the aquifers, is going to be important, because there will be more serious droughts as well as more of these serious deluges. 

Nebraska was an early state to make a statewide climate change assessment, in 2014.  If you want to check that out, we’ve got it right here, you can find the link in the description, nice work by University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  I like this page here, 46 in the viewer, 32 in the report.  This is a nice dig down into changes in projected precipitation.  There’s a substantial increase in winter/spring precipitation projected for the Northern Great Plains region as a whole, but Nebraska is actually skating out of that.  Nice for planting, right?  Nebraska is looking at a general mild increase in precipitation, again, probably outweighed by variability, but it’s not so seasonally clustered as we expect for the Dakotas. 

In another note on the water outlook for this state, according to the feds in 2019, groundwater use seems pretty sustainable here.  According to that 4th NCA, aquifer health in Nebraska is largely good.

Put all this information together?  Anyone who fears hunger, hunger in America, might want to take a deep breath and let it out, because here’s the projected center of continuing staple crop production.  Under RCP 4.5, Nebraska will be so precious to the future of our food security.  The climate is likely to permit conservation of the staple crops farmers here already know how to cultivate, already have the equipment, and to see increased yields.  We are expecting significant yield drops to crop failure if we don’t switch crops in the Southeastern US, and many states in the Midwest have been projected to see drops in yields that will set them back towards about 1980s levels of production. 

Nebraska, you’re facing many challenges.  Those increasingly extreme storms, they’re wild, you know it as well as I do, over in Iowa.  And that change in seasonality, that long summer, that big increase in the growing season, it’s going to make life feel different by midcentury.  The rivers will be different, too, less water in your snowmelt fed rivers.  Potentially dramatically less, which will change the landscape, it’ll be hard and sad to see those changes to the natural riverside areas. 

Across the state, you’ll need to tune up your utilities and work on managing water.  But I know that these are challenges your state can handle.  Many of us fear food insecurity in the face of the changes that are coming.  Nebraska is a beacon of comfort and hope against that fear.  There will be bad years, when the weather hits just all wrong.  But the good years, under RCP 4.5, in Nebraska’s future, the good years truly are projected to outweigh the bad years.

  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.