Northern Great Plains 2050 Forecast

            This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and we’ve got your 2050 climate forecast for the Northern Plains.  I am so happy when I get to give a positive forecast, when I get to give some good news, and that is the news I’ve got for the Northern Plains.  Don’t get me wrong, there are challenges ahead.  But in the midst of these challenges, this region, more than any other in America, has the opportunity to increase productivity for agriculture and livestock.  We’re looking at a 2050 forecast with some degree of productivity loss in every other region.  The potential for gains in production in the Northern Plains ought to be ringing out like a bell for anyone looking at land.

            Let’s talk about the changes forecast for this region.  And, like usual, this is a big region we’re talking about.  The changes the government is predicting look pretty different from Montana to Nebraska.  But across the region, trends are looking at about 25-40% less precipitation falling as snow.  And you can imagine, that has a lot of implications for recreation, for tourism, and most importantly, for water management.

            Water management is the biggest forecast challenge facing this region.  The good news?  It’s a manageable challenge.  There could be enough water to go around.  There’s not likely to be a decrease in the total water volume.  But there are significant projected decreases in the amount of precipitation falling as snow.  We could be looking at two feet less snowpack on the western edge of the region by 2050.  That’s going to have a big impact on your rivers and streams, especially again towards the western part of the region.  And for your areas that rely on the snowpack for regular water through the year, you’re looking at a complex problem. 

Now again, this isn’t a drought forecast.  Let me make sure I’m clear.  By 2050, there’s going to be more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow during the winter, so there’s not a loss in total water volume.  That forecast is a lot better than what we see projected for some other regions of the US.  But with the water falling different, there’s is going to be an impact on how water flows in the region.  There’s going to be an impact on the landscape.

Summer precipitation in this region isn’t likely to change all that much by 2050.  The rain is going to be about the same, but it’s going to be more intense.  Bigger storms, probably further apart.  More big heatwaves like the folks of this region have been dealing with this year, more frequent fairly short droughts.

Between the changes to the rain and the changes to the snow, individuals and communities in the Northern Plains are going to need to think very seriously about how they manage water now, and how they are going to change these strategies to stay competitive.  And if you want more detailed projections for your area, you know who to email.  I’ll help you out.

            The Northern Plains are so crucial for American security today.  The producers in this region contribute immensely to American food security.  And that role is going to become more and more important as this century goes on, and I do believe that role will see more of the respect it has always deserved on the national stage.  We all ought to consider the seriousness of the projected agricultural declines in the Southwest and the Southeast when we think about the future.  The Northern Plains are the hope that could help offset those losses.

The hope is a real hope, but it’s not what you might call an easy hope.  In the Northern Plains there are going to be more of those extreme weather events that can decrease your production quality.  More droughts, more unseasonable or extreme weather events, but there will also be more good years.  The winters are going to be 2-4 weeks shorter by 2050, and there is a decent chance that the weather will start stabilizing around that point.  Things could stabilize with a month less of winter than we have now, and with a fairly stable, longer growing season.  With that milder winter and that longer growing season, a person could be looking at some real opportunities. 

            So, let’s take a second to wrap this up.  If I were looking to purchase land for agriculture based purely on region, I’d look in the Northern Great Plains.  And if I were in a community in the Northern Plains, looking to strengthen what I love about my community, I would be optimistic about the future.  I would feel pretty confident that my community would be able to stay and thrive in place.  If this region is where you are based, I think the odds are good that you and your community are already smart and tough.  So I think that you can get ready for the changes that are coming.  Start thinking about how to take advantage of the changes in the growing season, start thinking about how to compensate for the changes in the water patterns.  Get in touch with me, get some specific numbers on what to expect for your area, and if you want, I can help you get some ideas for how to prepare.   

            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.