OPINION: Extreme weather trends should drive change in state thinking
Published 12:33 am Saturday, October 16, 2021
By John Hryhorchuk and Jeremy Mazur
Few things unite Texans like the shared experience of Texas weather. We can all agree that Texas summers are hot, our droughts are frequent, and Texas-sized storms can pack a punch. And we have all learned to pay close attention to flood and hurricane warnings.
Recent polling data from Texas 2036 confirms that our shared experience raises genuine concerns about recent weather trends. The latest Texas Voter Poll found that more than 70% of Texas voters think the climate has changed compared to 10 years ago — and 32% think that change has been dramatic. Further, more than half of those surveyed said the state is not prepared for extreme weather events.
Unfortunately, more extreme weather is coming.
Last week, Texas 2036, in partnership with the Office of the State Climatologist at Texas A&M University, released a report on future weather trends. According to our data, the average daily temperature will be 3 degrees warmer by the state’s bicentennial in 2036 when compared to the late 20th century. The number of 100-degree days, a hallmark of Texas’ summer misery index, is expected to double by 2036.
Higher temperatures and increased rainfall variability also point to greater drought severity. Rainfall deficits during cyclical droughts comparable to the drought of record during the 1950’s, or even the 2011 drought, would have greater impacts due to higher temperatures.
We know drought will come eventually. We also know flooding and extreme rainfall are inevitable. The famous observation made by an unnamed state meteorologist in 1927 — “Texas is a land of perennial drought, broken by the occasional devastating flood” — will continue to ring true in 2036. Only worse.
Data suggests that rainfall intensity will increase 6% to 10% compared to a few decades ago. Extreme rainfall events, which have caused urban flooding disasters in nearly every major Texas city, are expected to increase about 30-50% compared to the last century.
So, Texans have 15 years to prepare for a climate paradox in which some will endure droughts that strain water supplies, while others will face floods that drown communities. This paradox requires state leadership in water supply planning, flood control and energy resiliency.
Increased temperatures and more severe droughts will reduce our water supplies. Our data suggests that evaporative losses from rivers and reservoirs will increase 4% by 2036; there will be less water available for a growing, thirsty Texas. This means the state should prioritize planning and financing water supplies that won’t evaporate with the heat. These include water reuse, desalination, conservation and even aquifer storage and recovery.
The Texas climate paradox requires that as we prepare for drought, we must plan for floods to get worse, especially in urban areas. As rainfall amounts and urban flood risks intensify, flood planning and infrastructure financing, established by the Texas Legislature, must account for this increased intensity.
Texas also needs to prepare our energy infrastructure for more extreme weather. During the regular session, the legislature began this process with Senate Bill 3, which calls for the state to consider climate information for energy emergency planning purposes. But we need a clearer picture of how future extreme weather events could strain our capacity to generate power and deliver electricity.
Extreme weather portends energy unreliability. Energy policy makers must incorporate these forecasts into planning for grid resiliency and reliable energy supply delivery, as well as water planning and flood control. While we cannot change the weather, we can change how we plan, finance and develop infrastructure appropriately responsive to weather changes.
This also means that leaders should consider using new federal funding streams to address and fix long-term water, flood and energy infrastructure needs.
The sooner these actions take place, the better for Texas’ future.
To view a copy of the report, visit www.texas2036.org/weather.
John Hryhorchuk is vice president of policy at Texas 2036. Jeremy Mazur is senior policy advisor for natural resources at Texas 2036.