If the latest news reports are any indication, the droughts that have wracked a large portion of the contiguous United States continued piling on the damage in Texas and Oklahoma through 2012. The effects will reverberate for years — and global warming will make such brutal droughts (or worse) the region’s normal climate if we keep listening to the deniers’ call to inaction.
It’s a particular bitter irony, given that the political and media cultures of both states, with Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) leading the charge, have been contributing enthusiastically to climate change denialism.
The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration recently determined that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the lower 48 states, and research by NOAA and other institutions has linked extreme events like Texas and Oklahoma’s drought to climate change. As of December 2012, more than 42% percent of the lower 48 states were experiencing “severe” drought conditions, and 63% of the United States’ new winter wheat crop is in the drought-hit areas.
In Texas in particular, the situation is sufficiently dire that the Republicans in charge of the state are being forced to finally take concrete steps to build new reservoirs and repair the state’s water infrastructure:
In 2011, the last time the Legislature convened for one of its biennial sessions, Representative Allan Ritter, a Republican and the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, was unsuccessful in getting lawmakers to approve legislation imposing an annual fee on water users like homeowners and businesses to help finance projects in the state water plan.
But on Thursday, Mr. Ritter proposed bills that would draw $2 billion from the state’s emergency Rainy Day Fund to establish a water infrastructure bank that would lend money for the projects. This time, his proposals received support from Republican leaders and groups that are often on the opposite sides of issues, including the Sierra Club’s Texas chapter, the Texas Association of Business and other industry groups. At least 20 percent of the money available in the fund would be used for conservation and reuse efforts.
“There were people who were trying to talk about water last time, and there wasn’t any money, and there wasn’t the critical mass,” said James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, Austin. “Elite opinion begins to coalesce after a little while, and it takes people a while to get the issue out there, and I think that’s part of what’s happened with water.”
The Texas drought began in 2010 and is now the third-worst the state has seen since 1895, when record-keeping first began. The Texas Water Development Board estimates that without additional water supplies the state will be short 8.3 million acre-feet of water by 2060 (3.07 acre-feet is equivalent to one million gallons) and the shortfall could cost the state $116 billion that year. Even more tragically, since Texas is a conservative state and stingy with its budgets, the need to address straining water supplies is crowding out other critical investments such as eduction and social services.
The situation is much the same in Oklahoma, according to EnidNews.com. Gary McManus, a climatologist for the Oklahoma Climatological survey, expects the drought to topple state records again going all the way back to 1895:
“Right now, about 37 percent of Oklahoma is in exceptional drought,” McManus said.
Statewide average temperature for the month of December was 41.9 degrees, 2.9 degrees above normal, McManus said. He expects the calendar year statewide temperature for 2012 to be 63.1 degrees — which will topple the previous calendar year record of 62.9, set in 1954. [...]
Oklahoma has experienced two previous notable droughts — a five-year drought from 1951-1956, and the infamous “Dust Bowl” drought of 1931-1941.
The biggest difference McManus sees between those droughts and the current drought is time.
“This drought, compared to those, would still be in its infancy,” McManus said.
August 1, 2012 was the hottest day on record for Oklahoma since 1936, with more than half the state clocking temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Climate change and global warming exacerbate the cycles that lead to more frequent and severe droughts: Precipitation patterns shift to dry spells interspersed with deluges, rather than a more even distribution, and snow melts occur earlier. The overall result is less well-watered soil, which then evaporates more rapidly under global warming’s higher temperatures. That means less moisture in the air, meaning even less precipitation, while the drier ground is left to bake — thus driving air temperatures even higher.
Meanwhile, the damage is continuing in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and other parts of the Midwest, while threatening the water supply for Mississippi River and its critical economic role in American shipping. Across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean is experiencing more frequent droughts, and analysis by NOAA came to the conclusion climate change driven by human activities is largely to blame.
- Warming-Enhanced Texas Drought Is Once in “500 or 1,000 Years … Basically Off the Charts,” Says State Climatologist; Leading experts explain how human-caused warming exacerbates the drought
- We’re Already Topping Dust Bowl Temperatures — Imagine What’ll Happen If We Fail To Stop 10°F Warming