For decades, scientists have warned that human-induced climate change could put communities around the world at risk.
More intense climate and weather events beyond natural climate variability have already damaged people and nature. These threats are becoming increasingly evident in Texas. The ongoing heat wave, which has brought unseasonably high temperatures and again raised concerns about the capacity of the state’s power grid, is just one example.
Here’s how climate change is already affecting Texans.
Texas is getting hotter – even at night
Sunset doesn’t bring as much relief, according to a 2021 report by the state climatologist.
Average daily minimum and maximum temperatures in the state have both increased by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit from 1895 to 2020, according to the report. The largest changes in average temperatures were reported in urban areas, where buildings and roads absorb more heat from the sun, but every county in Texas recorded an increase. Even minor variations in average temperatures require more electricity from the power grid, endanger the health of people who work outdoors, and can alter climate patterns and ecosystems. The heat also increases the prevalence of ground-level ozone pollution, or smog, making it harder for people with asthma and other health conditions to breathe outdoors in big cities. from Texas.
This year, cities in Texas have seen record triple-digit temperatures amid a prolonged spring heat wave that authorities say could lead to heat exhaustion and illness.
Hurricanes that hit the Texas coast are getting stronger
Warming oceans fuel hurricanes, increasing the amount of precipitation, strengthening winds and causing more flooding on land, scientists have found.
Climate change increased the intensity of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, several studies found after the storm. Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change, the scientists concluded.
Harvey, the costliest US disaster that year, caused $125 billion in damage and more than 100 people died from direct causes such as flooding and indirect causes such as disruption of medical services, report says from the National Hurricane Center.
Sea levels rise along the Texas Gulf Coast
Rising sea levels will also make communities more vulnerable to storm surges during hurricanes, the 2018 National Climate Assessment warned. Already, scientists have observed an increase in the number of tidal flood days. in areas like Port Isabel, Texas.
Between 2000 and 2019, sea level rise caused the Texas coast to retreat, on average, about 1.25 meters, or about 4 feet, per year, according to a 2021 report from the Bureau of Economic Geology. from the University of Texas for the Texas General Land Office. A 2021 report by the state climatologist found that a relative sea level rise of 1 meter produces a doubling of storm surge risk.
“Places along the Texas coast with the highest rates of sea level rise could have double the risk of storm surge by 2050 compared to the beginning of the 20th century, solely due to relative sea level rise itself,” the report said.
Other extreme weather events in Texas could worsen
Winters are generally getting milder, but some emerging science suggests that global warming may play a role in Arctic changes that are causing southern cold snaps like the one that devastated Texas in February 2021.
The 2021 freeze caused up to 700 deaths, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed News, and up to $129 billion in economic damage, according to The Perryman Group, an economics firm.
The state will need to upgrade its infrastructure, including the power grid, to withstand extreme weather conditions while reducing carbon emissions to help slow climate change, experts said.
Water is scarce
Global warming amplifies droughts by increasing water evaporation and reducing snow, which can serve as a source of water and retain moisture in the ground.
In Texas, some experts fear a drier-than-usual winter and less rainfall this spring could plunge parts of the state into drought similar to what Texas experienced in 2011, the driest year. registered in the state.
In Big Bend National Park in West Texas, the Rio Grande has stopped flowing in recent months and experts fear the river may dry up more frequently, Marfa Public Radio reported.
In the second half of this century, Texas could see “mega-droughts” worse than any previously recorded, according to a 2020 report by scientists at Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin.
The projections are of particular concern for communities like Dallas, which rely entirely on surface water — which is more vulnerable to evaporation — and farmers and ranchers, who depend on rainfall for crops and livestock.
Severe droughts could limit the growth of forage needed to raise beef cattle, for example. Droughts, as well as disruptions from natural disasters, could strain state food supply chains and drive up prices.
The risk of disease increases
Warmer waters with reduced flow are more susceptible to pathogens, such as a brain-eating amoeba found in Lake Jackson in 2020, posing risks for recreational use and consumption.
Warming Texas temperatures are also more inviting for insects that carry and transmit diseases historically seen in the tropics. So say experts in 2012, when hundreds of Dallas-area Texans were diagnosed with mosquito-borne West Nile virus after a warm winter.
Dengue fever and the Zika virus, also transmitted by mosquitoes, are expected to become more common in warming climates.
Climate change drives more migration
As communities around the world increasingly feel the impacts of climate change, more people could travel to Texas.
Last year, Politico documented how states along the US-Mexico border have become destinations for thousands of people fleeing Central America due to climate change, food insecurity and poverty.
And with rising sea levels along the US coast, around 1.5 million Americans could move to Texas by 2100, according to a 2017 study. The Austin-Round Rock area would be the first destination, according to the study, but the Houston and Dallas areas could also see a large influx of climate migrants.
Disclosure: Politico, Texas A&M University, the Texas General Land Office, and the University of Texas at Austin financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by member donations, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune.
From the Texas Tribune