What Climate Change Means for Texas in 11 Charts

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WA Parish coal plant
W.A. Parish coal plant

The new federal climate assessment, which came out Tuesday, tells us what we (should) already know. But does it in great and alarming detail, linking what’s already occurred to what else is in store. In short: Climate change is here. We’re already feeling the effects. And things will get much worse without a concerted effort to reduce emissions globally.

For Texas, which is lumped in with the Great Plains region, the National Climate Assessment finds that the state is getting hotter, exacerbating droughts. Precipitation patterns are changing, with more infrequent but heavier downpours. And sea-level rise is putting low-lying coastal communities like Galveston and Houston at increased risk of storms and loss of habitat.

The report, of course, was greeted by Texas politicians and regulators with the usual fact-free distortions and obfuscation we’ve come to expect. (More on that later.)

It’s a compelling report and the website presenting the findings is well worth your time. Here are a few visuals that tell the story.

First, a little scene-setting… The increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, is driving the increase in global temperature averages.

Global temperatures and carbon dioxide, 1880-2012
Global temperatures and carbon dioxide, 1880-2012

 

 

Average temperatures have risen across the U.S. since the late 19th century, with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The hottest year on record for the contiguous United States, including Texas, was 2012.

 

Climate CS_Net_Change_in_Ann_Temp_12910_v11
The colors on the map show temperature changes over the past 22 years (1991-2012) compared to the 1901-1960 average for the contiguous U.S., and to the 1951-1980 average for Alaska and Hawaii. The bars on the graph show the average temperature changes by decade for 1901-2012 (relative to the 1901-1960 average). The far right bar (2000s decade) includes 2011 and 2012. The period from 2001 to 2012 was warmer than any previous decade in every region. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 
The assessment uses the record hot and dry summer of 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma as an example of how “extreme climate events resulted in cascading effects across energy, water, and land systems.” In Texas, the summer of 2011 was 5.2 F hotter than normal, with more than 90 days of 100-plus days in parts of the state. 

 

 

climate WEL_days_above_100_13605_V4 climate WEL_texas_scatter_plot_V3

 

 

We can expect more brutally hot days—a quadrupling of days in the southern part of the Great Plains by mid-century—and higher temperatures across the board in the future, especially under higher-emissions scenarios. (Throughout the report, the authors relied on two different projections: The “lower emissions” scenario assumed a “substantial reduction” in greenhouse gas emissions and a temperature increase by the end of the century of 3 to 5 F; the higher emissions scenario assumed continued increases in emissions, leading to a 5 to 10 F increase by 2100.)

 

 

climate CS_projected_temperature_change_sres_V7
Figure 2.8: Maps show projected change in average surface air temperature in the later part of this century (2071-2099) relative to the later part of the last century (1970-1999) under a scenario that assumes substantial reductions in heat trapping gases (B1) and a higher emissions scenario that assumes continued increases in global emissions (A2). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

The number of warm nights will also rise, increasing water losses in lakes and streams, heat stress and demand for air conditioning.

 

 

climate GP_warm_nights_projected_V4
The number of nights with the warmest temperatures is projected to increase dramatically. The historical (1971-2000) distribution of temperature for the warmest 2% of nights (Top: about seven days each year) echoes the distinct north-south gradient in average temperatures. By mid-century (2041-2070), the projected change in number of nights exceeding those warmest temperatures is greatest in the south for both the lower emissions scenario (B1) and for the higher emissions scenario (A2). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Rainfall patterns are changing too.

 

 

climate CS_Net_Change_in_annual_Precip_12909_v9
The colors on the map show annual total precipitation changes for 1991-2012 compared to the 1901-1960 average, and show wetter conditions in most areas. The bars on the graph show average precipitation differences by decade for 1901-2012 (relative to the 1901-1960 average). The far right bar is for 2001-2012. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Texas has always been drought-plagued, but increasing heat and projected changes in rainfall patterns likely means longer dry spells.

 

 

Figure: Change in Maximum Number of Consecutive Dry Days Caption: Change in the number of consecutive dry days (days receiving less than 0.04 inches (1 mm) of precipitation) at the end of this century (2081-2100) relative to the end of last century (1980-1999) under the higher scenario, RCP 8.5. Stippling indicates areas where changes are consistent among at least 80% of the 25 models used in this analysis. (Supplemental Message 5 and Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate, Key Message 3). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).
Figure: Change in Maximum Number of Consecutive Dry Days Caption: Change in the number of consecutive dry days (days receiving less than 0.04 inches (1 mm) of precipitation) at the end of this century (2081-2100) relative to the end of last century (1980-1999) under the higher scenario, RCP 8.5. Stippling indicates areas where changes are consistent among at least 80% of the 25 models used in this analysis. (Supplemental Message 5 and Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate, Key Message 3). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

We can also expect seasonal changes in precipitation. Spring, in particular, may be significantly drier across Texas.

 

 

climate CS_seasonal_precip_projections_A2_V5
Climate change affects more than just temperature. The location, timing, and amounts of precipitation will also change as temperatures rise. Maps show projected percent change in precipitation in each season for 2071-2099 (compared to the period 1970-1999) under an emissions scenario that assumes continued increases in emissions (A2). Teal indicates precipitation increases, and brown, decreases. Hatched areas indicate that the projected changes are significant and consistent among models. White areas indicate that the changes are not projected to be larger than could be expected from natural variability. In general, the northern part of the U.S. is projected to see more winter and spring precipitation, while the southwestern U.S. is projected to experience less precipitation in the spring. Wet regions are generally projected to become wetter while dry regions become drier. Summer drying is projected for parts of the U.S., including the Northwest and southern Great Plains. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Soil moistures are decreasing, a major hurdle for farmers trying to coax crops from the soil. Parched land will be a growing problem, in particular, in areas like the Panhandle, where farmers are transitioning from the depleting Ogallala Aquifer to dry-land crops.

“Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years,” the assessment states.

 

 

climate CS_soil_moisture_v9
Average change in soil moisture compared to 1971-2000, as projected for the middle of this century (2041-2070) and late this century (2071-2100) under two emissions scenarios, a lower scenario (B1) and a higher scenario (A2). The future drying of soils in most areas simulated by this sophisticated hydrologic model (Variable Infiltration Capacity or VIC model) is consistent with the future drought increases using the simpler Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) metric. Only the western U.S. is displayed because model simulations were only run for this area. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Finally, sea levels have been rising inexorably, with an acceleration since the 1970s. Because of all the heat that’s already in the system, oceans will continue to rise for millennia. But by how much and how quickly is dependent on how much more carbon is pumped into the atmosphere. The assessment projects that oceans are likely to rise 1-4 feet by the end of the century, but the report does not rule out an increase of six feet. Much of the Texas coast—including barrier islands like Padre and Galveston, that protect the mainland from tropical storms—is only a few feet above sea level. And sea-level rise will not be uniform. In some areas, like around Galveston-Houston, the ground is sinking as well.

 

climate CS_SLR_scenarios_v8

**

And what is the response from Texas’ top officials to this sobering report?

Gov. Rick Perry: He’s refused to say anything. “Gov. Rick Perry’s office did not respond to a request on Tuesday to describe his policy for preparing the state for climate change and reducing its impact.”

Notably, Perry once wrote that the planet is actually cooling.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn: He didn’t address the report directly, but also avoided putting himself squarely in the denial camp.

“I am not one that denies that human beings have an impact on the environment. But I am sure not willing to put the federal government in charge of trying to micromanage the environment for the United States of America, nor for us to drive up the price of energy for people on fixed income, like seniors and people of modest means, by putting restrictions in place that other nations are not.”

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith: He’s the chair of the House Science Committee, so what do you think his take was?

“This is a political document intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions.”

And, finally, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:

The environmental agency seems mightily concerned about the coal industry.

“There has been no significant global warming in more than 15 years, although carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. It is clear that the science of global warming is far from settled.  Regulatory policy cannot be set without firm guidelines and the proven cause and effect that would dictate policy. The NCA global warming policy will result in greatly reduced use of coal for energy generation. This will impact the reliability of the electrical grid, and will also increase energy costs.  It will particularly impact energy prices for those who can least afford it, such as the elderly and the poor.  This is the true environmental impact of the war on coal.”

 

Just for the record, here are the top 10 warmest years on record globally, according to NOAA (not in rank order):

2013 (tie)
2012 (tie)
2010
2009 (tie)
2007 (tie)
2006
2005
2004 (tie)
2003 (tie)
2002
1998

 

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • GOP Julie

    This is nonsense. More likely, it’s a leftwing conspiracy theory paid for by environmental radicals, shysters and extortionists who stand to make millions. Heck, these people can barely predict the weather from one day to the next, let alone 40 to 50 years down the road.

    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94rcOVJBMYQ Winston Blake

      “Climate change” is a new religion…

    • Fred Beloit
      • Forrest Wilder

        Fact: The U.S. had a cold winter. Fact: The average temperature globally for January–March of 2014 was the seventh warmest such period on record. March was the 4th warmest March on record. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2014/3

        • GOP Julie

          Fact? According to who? Leftwing fanatics? These bureaucrats pay millions for skewed climate models, and you call it “science,” I call it “trash.”

          • Forrest Wilder

            It’s temperature data gathered from stations around the planet by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a scientific agency that’s been around, in some form, since 1807.

          • GOP Julie

            NOAA may be an federal agency that’s been around since 1807, but it’s anything but scientific. It’s filled with leftwing extortionists who pay millions for skewed research to fit a particular political narrative. They have a never-ending supply of money and a job as long as they want to work. Like I said in an previous post, they can’t predict the climate from one day to the next. How in the heck can anyone know what’s going to happen 40-50 years from now?

          • Forrest Wilder

            I guess it’s a vast international conspiracy involving dozens of governments and independent scientists to engineer climate stations to record pre-determined temperature data and the conspiracy has been underway for decades through both conservative and liberal governments… Sounds plausible.

          • 1bimbo

            is mass hysteria plausible? yes. is a junk science pile on plausible? double yes

          • GOP Julie

            That’s right, pal. It’s all about money. Follow the trail. You can start at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Ask the climate scientists on campus who is it exactly that pays them for their research? I have a hunch it leads to left coast organizations. Ever heard of the Energy Foundation?

          • claytonauger

            Yes, of course! All the Texas institutions of higher learning depending on oil and gas revenues to be funded, the ones who have entire buildings named after Exxon executives, the ones whose alumni are out doing all the drilling, are a the very center of the conspiracy to link these fossil fuels with a global catastrophe. Brilliant work Julie. Breitbart has a job waiting for you.

          • GOP Julie

            Sneer all you want, Clayton. I’m sure Slate or Mother Jones has a job waiting for you. Through my work, I have a pretty good sense of how much money is being funneled to academia by the environmental goons on the left and how they arrive at their “scientific” conclusions. Most are lunatics like you who 30 years ago decried acid rain as the biggest threat to our planet. Can’t wait to see what load of crap you freaks come up with next to call “settled science.”

          • BERTCHADICK

            “Settled science” is a religious concept. Science is forever evolving as new data comes to light and theories evolve. Climate disaster is real and human contribution theory has been shown to correlate with the collected data curve on as close to a perfect match as can be noted within the limitations of current technology and funding. I have a niece with her PHD in climatology and she has been following the climate disaster for fifteen years and has pretty much given up trying to combat the well financed propaganda from the oil/gas/coal lobby. O/G/C even has its own television network, Fox News. My niece has surrendered to the well monied stupidity and moved her family to the Pacific Northwest where the disaster will least effect her children and grandchildren. The left has nothing to gain from a false scare on a bogus climate disaster. Actually, quite the opposite. Climate disaster will mandate the shifting of infrastructure funding from municipal renewal projects to sea barrier and water transfer to otherwise productive states. I’ll be dead before the true scale of the climate disaster becomes so obvious that even the most hardened tea party disaster denier is repentant.

          • GOP Julie

            I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Glad I moved.

    • J Scott Mills

      GOP Julie…please don’t have babies!

      • GOP Julie

        Sorry, you’re too late.

    • Angelo_Frank

      “Heck, these people can barely predict the weather from one day to the next, let alone 40 to 50 years down the road.”

      Sheer hyperbole on your part. Your post consists of the same debunked propaganda talking points issued by groups such as FreedomWorks and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity. The fossil fuel industry has a vice grip on two branches of government through campaign financing. Those two branches won’t act because it’s politically not in their interests since for every $1 the fossil fuel industry spends on campaign contributions and lobbying, it gets back $59 in subsidies.

      • GOP Julie

        Who’s spewing propaganda talking points now? Did Harry Reid write them for you?

  • 1bimbo

    doesn’t matter how many maps,charts&graphs you slang up on the screen, there’s no such thing as climate change.. or maybe there is! it gets hot.. then it gets cold.. sometimes it’s cool, other times it’s warm! (gasp!) climate change does exist!

  • Karey Cummins

    So-called “global warming” is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it, right-wingers!

    (For the educationally impaired, you might want to do some research on the difference between weather and climate change.)

  • crackablasta

    How could there be so many science denying Texans? It is just painfully embarrassing.

  • Daina Harvey

    Yes, those rich environmentalists have all the money. Poor oil and gas companies have none to spend on influencing public beliefs. It’s so sad.

  • Del

    I suppose the polar icecaps aren’t melting and the earth is 6000 years old, too. How sad for you.

  • tampublic

    You THINK your child is not feeling well, so you take him to a DOCTOR. The
    doctor uses a THERMOMETER to OBERVE a NUMBER that is INTERPRETED to mean
    that your child has a FEVER. The doctor says that if left untreated, high
    fevers can in many cases lead to serious illness. He recommends MEDICINE to
    give to your child, based on his EXPERIENCE. You go to another doctor, and the same thing happens. Do
    you give the child medicine? Most people do. Why?

  • Ron Schmidli

    I’m sorry to inform you, you’re sadly mistaken on your vision and opinion on global warming. I was hire at an automotive test lab in 1987 when the eliminate CFC’s movement was at its prime and auto the automotive companies were scrambling to get their specific refrigerant recipe as the accepted norm. As history dictates R-134A won the war. During the development phases my peers and myself had to attend seminars, training sessions on the atmosphere, along with the cause and effect projected out come of climate effect if CFC in the atmosphere was not reduced. One citation has stuck in my mind for yearsis by the year 2020 the ambient temperatures will be so intense people will not be able to tolerate them. Trust me, it’s NOT political!

    • 1bimbo

      in texas, it gets so hot you can fry an egg on the sidewalk!

  • R1o2b3

    I would like to say that it is hardly fair to expect ignorant, scientifically illiterate folks to embrace or accept the scientific fact of AGW. However, they seem to have no problem embracing the science that created AWG. From the science involved in power plants to the science behind fossil fuel extraction, If they could only see their hypocrisy. In any event, the scientific method is the same in all these respective fields of study.

  • lallen2064

    Whether or not you agree with the anthropogenic induced climate change or not, the fact is that the climate does change over time. There have been scientific studies of the USA Southwest region pulling data that goes back thousands of years and the data show long cycles of drought
    and even mega-drought (lasting hundreds of years) in the past.

    Based on the past, one can expect that the U.S. Southwest is going to get hotter and drier (even without anthropogenic inducement). Based on the data, one could even characterize the latter part of the 19th and 20th centuries as abnormally cold and wet in the US Southwest region. Add on top of the drought prospects, the large influx of people that have moved into the southwest in the last 50+ years and one can see a major challenge in trying to meet the demand for water that the increased population demands.

    Humans have primarily survived detrimental climate change by adapting to the changes. In the ancient Southwest that pretty much meant the migration of indigenous peoples to less harsh climates. Again the archeological data backs this up based on the evidence found in the ruins left by native American tribes. You observe cycles of habitation during the good times and abandonment during the harsh times. It is only the last 100 years that humanity has had the ability to bend nature to its will – but I will still bet on adaptation as the best strategy for survival.

    If you are interested in the Southwest climate history studies, you may look at the work done by the University of New Mexico (see Peter Fawcett) which was published in Nature.

  • 1bimbo
    • R1o2b3

      That is your rebuttal, your proof? A Fox News monologue from non scientist, George Will. Your rebuttal to decades of scientific study and world wide scientific consensus is so precious. Please, continue to diminish yourself further and post again.