15-year forecast: urban flooding, scorching heat, intense droughts
By 2036, Texas will experience record-breaking heat, as much as 50 percent more flooding, and severe droughts, according to a new study conducted by the Texas state climatologist and Texas A&M University researchers — and recent data shows that Texans are already feeling the damaging effects.
The researchers analyzed decades of Texas weather records to project trends out to 2036, the year of Texas’ bicentennial. They found that Texas will experience twice as many 100-degree days, 30-50 percent more urban flooding, and more intense droughts 15 years from now if present climate trends continue.
“Texas’ weather is changing, and it’s doing so in a way that will make it harder to live here and more expensive to recover from increasingly disruptive events,” said State Climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, regents professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M.
“That means preparation and resilience are more important than ever. Texas’ long-term prosperity will depend on how well we prepare for these increasingly damaging natural disasters.”
The report, Assessment of Historic and Future Trends of Extreme Weather in Texas, 1900-2036: The 2021 Update, was released today and has major implications for statewide planning and funding of infrastructure, water and flood control, energy, and transportation.
Nielsen-Gammon led the team of Texas A&M researchers that analyzed decades of Texas weather records to project trends out to 2036, the year of Texas’ bicentennial. They found that Texas will experience twice as many 100-degree days, 30-50 percent more urban flooding, and more intense droughts 15 years from now if present climate trends continue.
“Over the past several decades, we’ve seen triple-digit days basically double in number in all regions of the state,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “These past trends are relevant because they are indicators of future changes. Climate models have been fairly accurate in simulating temperature trends in Texas since 1950, and they suggest that the trend since 1975 will continue for the next few decades at least.”
The study was conducted independently by Nielsen-Gammon and Texas A&M researchers, and was funded by Texas 2036, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization.
In the Assessment of Historic and Future Trends of Extreme Weather in Texas, 1900-2036, released March 5, 2020, Nielsen-Gammon and Texas A&M researchers analyze what Texas’ climate and weather conditions will be like when the state turns 200 in 2036. Using observed and analyzed historical meteorological and climate data, the report describes future extreme weather risks facing the state. Nielsen-Gammon is the lead author of the 2020 report and the 2021 Update. Texas A&M students Sara Holman, Austin Buley, and Savannah Jorgensen contributed to the update.
Recent polling data conducted by Texas 2036 showed that 72 percent of Texas voters recognize Texas’ climate has changed over the past 10 years, with 32 percent of respondents saying those changes have been dramatic. Further, 59 percent of voters said the state is not well-prepared for extreme weather events such as the severe winter storm in February that knocked out power and water service to more than half the state and resulted in hundreds of deaths.
“State leaders need to take a hard look at what is required — and what it will cost — to prepare Texas for the extreme and disruptive weather events we know are coming,” said Margaret Spellings, president and CEO of Texas 2036. “Dr. Nielsen-Gammon and his team have given Texas a data-driven look at the state’s present and future. Most voters already see the devastating effects of extreme weather on Texas’ people, communities, and economy. Texas needs to plan and prepare for what’s next.”
The Texas A&M report shows that Texas’ climate has already changed in ways that leave the state more vulnerable to extreme weather.
The study analyzed a variety of past and future meteorological trends, including average temperatures, extreme temperatures, precipitation, extreme rainfall, drought, river flooding, urban flooding, winter precipitation, severe thunderstorms, hurricanes and coastal erosion, and wildfires. It found that if current trends continue as expected, disruptive weather events will make it harder to live in Texas than it is today:
The number of 100-degree days has more than doubled over the past 40 years — and could nearly double again, compared to the number of 100-degree days Texans have experienced between 2001-2020. There also will likely be a higher frequency of 100-degree days in urban areas by 2036, a phenomenon enhanced by Texas urban “heat islands.”
The average annual Texas surface temperature in 2036 is expected to be 3 degrees warmer than average temperatures in the last half of the 20th century (1950-1999).
Extreme rainfall has become more frequent and severe and is expected to worsen. As a result, there will be a significant increase in urban flooding — as much as 30-50% more than occurred between 1950-1999.
While the frequency of hurricanes is expected to stay the same or even decrease, their intensity is expected to increase significantly. And thanks to sea level rise, the risk of hurricane storm surge may double in some places by 2050 compared with risk levels around 1900.
Despite increased precipitation in certain areas, most factors point toward more severe droughts and increased risks of wildfires in the future.