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Environment

State climatologist says Texans can expect the average number of triple-digit days to double by 2036

People rest in the shade outside the Texas Capitol on a hot day in July.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
People rest in the shade outside the Texas Capitol on a hot day in July.

Fifteen years from now the average annual temperature in Texas will be almost two degrees hotter than it was during the first part of this century. The number of triple-digit days Texans can expect per year will be nearly double what it is now. These are just two ways life in Texas could (let’s be honest) get worse by 2036, according to a new report from John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas' state climatologist.

The report, "Extreme Weather in Texas, 1900 to 2036," paints a picture of how quickly and severely global climate change is affecting Texas by looking at historic climate trends and using climate models to extrapolate what kind of weather to expect 15 years from now.

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The trend is, frankly, so obvious,” Nielsen-Gammon said Thursday during a press conference presenting the report. “Since the year 2000, there’s barely been a single year in which the average minimum temperature has been below the long-term average.”

“That's really the definition of a new normal,” he added.

Like many previous studies, "Extreme Weather in Texas" also anticipates more serious rainstorms in Texas. Those rainstorms, it estimates, will lead to a 10% to 15% increase in flood frequency in urban areas in 15 years unless flood mitigation efforts are increased.

Nielsen-Gammon writes that the future frequency of droughts is harder to quantify because they are closely linked to climate patterns that come and go over the course of decades. But, the severity of droughts will be amplified by increasing heat.

That heat, he writes, will also lead to more wildfires in much of the state, while “wildfire risk may not be as large in far West Texas,” where hotter and drier conditions will lead to less vegetation for fires to burn.

The report also forecasts that continuing coastal subsidence and sea level rise will mean more flooding and destructive hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.

While the risk of thunder and hail storms may also increase, the report says “these possible trends are too uncertain to quantify.”

But the most dramatic findings in terms of people's day-to-day lives probably relate back to the heat.

Beyond the dramatic increase in triple-digit days, Nielsen-Gammon finds that the average annual temperature is rising so much that “even a very conservative extrapolation, based on the average of the 1950-2020 and 1975-2020 trends, would make a typical year around 2036 warmer than all but the five warmest years on record so far.”

He says the increase in extreme heat could lead to fewer people moving to the state and will increase health risks for those who need to work outdoors.

“Workers and especially employers are going to need to be more conscious of making sure that people who have to work outside are protected,” he said. “That may lead to fewer hours of being able to work outside and lower productivity.”

Looking for “good news?” Nielsen-Gammon says that severe winter storms, like the one Texas experienced in February, may be less likely to occur in the future because of the rapid warming. But, he cautions, cold spells will still be a risk and should be prepared for.

"Extreme Weather in Texas, 1900 to 2036" is an update of a previous peer-reviewed study. It is sponsored by Texas 2036, a nonprofit that seeks to build “long-term, data-driven strategies that will secure Texas' prosperity through our state's bicentennial in 15 years,” according to Director of Communications Merrill Davis.

“In a sense, the fact we're only looking at 2036 underplays the risks of climate change,” Nielsen-Gammon said at the press conference. “What we do for infrastructure between now and 2036 is going to be designed to protect us after 2036 while temperatures are still rising.”

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.