Why Texas Can’t Ignore Climate Change

Climate change is having a big impact in Texas. The second largest US state located in the south-central part of the country – consistently ranks among the top 10 states most affected by extreme weather events, such as droughts, extreme heat and wildfires.

1. Heatwave

As climate report 2021 pointing out that the unprecedented record-breaking heatwaves that hit Texas repeatedly will become a normal and regular occurrence due to climate change, and the state’s future hinges almost entirely on climate mitigation and adaptation.

In the last century, most of Texas had warmed at nearly 1.5F . on average (0.8C), and the summers are getting longer and hotter. The most recent and ongoing heatwave that hit the central US and Texas in late April 2022 has caused triple-digit temperatures in the state’s southern and midwestern bands for several consecutive days and is spreading north through the Great Plains. According to the above-mentioned report, the number of triple-digit days in a year will double in 2036 compared to the last 20 years and temperatures will be three degrees warmer than 1950 to 1999.

Image 1: Texas Temperature Rise, 1895-2021

Heat wave too trigger a record request for air conditioning and electricity. Nearly 45% of it is met by renewable sources, with solar and wind power generation increasing rapidly. Historically, the state has typically experienced high temperatures during the summer months, but heatwaves have arrived earlier in recent years as a result of climate change.

2. Drought

The intense heatwave that Texas is experiencing is increasing the drought. The Lone Star state is known for its arid climate and while drought is a natural occurrence here, climate change and rising global temperatures have made it much more severe in recent decades, changing rainfall patterns and draining moisture in the soil at a faster rate. For this reason, Texas is classified as the state most at risk of widespread drought, with experts predicting that by 2050 it will see an increase in the severity of the event by almost 75%.

Overall, experts predict that in the coming years, average rainfall is likely to decline – particularly during winter, spring, and summer and that within 70 years, the longest period without rain each year will likely be at least three days longer than today. This will contribute to increased evaporation and subsequent reduction in water content in rivers and streams as well as insufficient water to irrigate crops or even drinking water to meet the basic needs of Texas’ growing population.

texas climate change

Figure 2: Texas Drought Monitor, May 2022

Water shortage in Texas is also a big problem from an economic point of view. Indeed, the state is based on three, very thirsty sector – fossil fuel generation, real estate development, and agriculture – with nearly 60% of Texas’s water resources used for crops. Every sector is severely impacted whenever a drought occurs. The food industry is particularly vulnerable: as severe droughts damage crops and limit the growth of the forage needed to raise livestock for beef, the state’s supply chain will be under immense stress, possibly leading to a spike in food prices.

3. Forest Fires and Extreme Weather Events

Heatwaves and droughts aren’t the only issues Texas has to worry about. Indeed, warmer temperatures and drier conditions increase the risk of wildfires and intensify weather events such as rainstorms and hurricanes.

Already in the spring of 2022, hundreds of forest fires have occurred in the midst of a severe heat wave, which has resulted in more than 200 districts being classified as ‘crop disaster areas’ – meaning that their crops are expected to fail or be significantly smaller as a result of forest fires. Between January and May 2022, more than 400,000 hectares were burned, seven times more than in the same period last year. Fears of water shortages have also prompted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to issue mandatory water use restrictions, as water levels in some reservoirs have fallen to less than 20% of capacity.

Today, more than 70% of the state’s population, equivalent to nearly 18 million people, live in areas that are at high risk of forest fires. Texas – which currently has the second highest risk of wildfires in the US after California by 2050, is expected to be the country most threatened by such an event as global warming worsens.

While climate change is often linked to rising temperatures, scientists suggest that the effects of global warming on the Arctic could lead to bouts of cold in the south as Texas has repeatedly experienced in recent years. The most recent occurred during the first months of 2021, when the country is hit cold air out of Canada causing damage to water systems, straining the power grid, and sparking widespread power outage.

Global warming is also drastically increasing the impact of hurricanes. As temperatures rise, evaporation accelerates, as does heat transfer from the oceans to the air. The heat and steam absorbed by storms as they cross warm waters trigger winds and precipitation, causing flooding that gets worse. 2021 is ‘above average’ and the fourth most expensive Atlantic hurricane season on record, with 21 severe hurricanes hitting Texas, seven of which became hurricanes, in addition to four other major hurricanes.

The worst event to hit Texas was Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which resulted in more than 100 deaths, caused flood water pollution due to damage to chemical facilities, and cost the state US$125 billion. New research shows that the likelihood of slow-moving hurricanes like Harvey occurring more frequently during the Atlantic hurricane season is now higher than ever, as climate change is expected to intensify winds driving storms northward over Texas in the last 25 years of this century.

4. Sea Level Rise

The last major climate change issue facing Texas today is above-average sea level rise. Between 1950 and today, sea levels have risen 18 inches (41 centimeters) and continue to rise at a faster rate of about one inch (2.5 centimeters) per year. This, coupled with coastal erosion, places agglomeration around Texas’s most populous city, Houston, in the normal flood risk in the next few decades. Slightly higher sea levels can make a big difference in the occurrence of extreme storm surges. A 1 in 100 year flood event (an intensity that has a 1% chance of occurring in a given year) could become a 1 in 10 year event in 2050, making communities living near the coast much more vulnerable. Currently, Texas has 127,000 people at risk of coastal flooding, but by the middle of this century, additional 117,000 people are projected to be at risk due to this phenomenon.

You may also like: The Best Places to Live to Cope with Climate Change

Is There a Way Out?

Texas’ weather is changing rapidly due to climate change, making life in the state more difficult and recovering from an increasingly disruptive event much more expensive. Experts agree that preparation and resilience should be high on the agenda. However, the only long-term solution to extreme weather events is to address the root cause, climate change. Our planet has warmed by around 1.1C since pre-industrial times, and we are still on track to exceed 1.5C in the next two decades. Unless the world at large drastically stops adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, record-high heat waves and other extreme weather conditions will become even more frequent, threatening millions of lives worldwide. The race is now to drastically reduce emissions and help people adapt to already locked-in warming.

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