22 Responses to State Climatologist: “It’s Likely Much of Texas Will Still Be in Severe Drought” Next August, With Worse Water Shortages
Even The PBS Newshour’s Coverage is “Climate” Free
The U.S. Drought Monitor puts it another way [click on map for detail]. Over 80% of the state is now rated under “Exceptional Drought” (darkest red):
Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon has a number of charts that provide some historical quantification and comparison. In his Monday post, “Texas Drought: Spot the Outlier,” N-G offers “a plot of Texas average summer (June-August) temperature versus Texas summer precipitation” as far back as records go (1895):
Nielsen-Gammon explains, “Can you spot the outlier? The year 2011 continues the recent trend of being much warmer than the historical precipitation-temperature relationship would indicate, although with no previous points so dry it’s hard to say exactly what history would say about a summer such as this one. Except that this summer is way beyond the previous envelope of summer temperature and precipitation.“
Human-caused climate change is starting to take us outside the bounds of the recorded weather extremes. And the Texas State Climatologist warned it is likely to get worse:
I’ve started telling anyone who’s interested that it’s likely that much of Texas will still be in severe drought this time next summer, with water supply implications even worse than those we are now experiencing.
The link to climate change is clear — record-smashing heat makes any drought more devastating — even if major media outlets, including PBS’s News Hour, choose to ignore it.
Texas climatologist Katherine Hayhoe put it this way in an email:
We often try to pigeonhole an event, such as a drought, storm, or heatwave into one category: either human or natural, but not both. What we have to realise is that our natural variability is now occurring on top of, and interacting with, background conditions that have already been altered by long-term climate change.
As our atmosphere becomes warmer, it can hold more water vapor. Atmospheric circulation patterns shift, bringing more rain to some places and less to others. For example, when a storm comes, in many cases there is more water available in the atmosphere and rainfall is heavier. When a drought comes, often temperatures are already higher than they would have been 50 years ago and so the effects of the drought are magnified by higher evaporation rates.
Climate Wire (subs. req’d) quotes an expert from the Lower Colorado River Authority:
The recent trend line — short bursts of rain and flash flooding followed by long, drawn-out periods of little to no rain — suggests strong evidence of climate change, whether or not Texans agree on the cause of the planet’s warming trend, says LCRA meteorologist Rose. (Rick Perry, Texas’ Republican governor, who is running for president, says he does not believe climate change has a human cause.)
“The climate seems to be changing, and we can’t rely on every other year getting a big flood and getting a lot of water,” Rose said. “We appear to be going into a period now that’s going to feature longer dry periods and then short bursts of rain in between.”
That is in fact the basic prediction of climate science for the Southwest U.S. — see “USGS on Dust-Bowlification” for recent studies.
But, as Steve Sconik of Capital Climate notes, even supposedly “liberal” media aren’t connecting the dots, or, as he puts it, “Mainstream Media Chronic Climatological Challenge Continues“:
The PBS News Hour last night devoted nearly 8 minutes to the subject:
Although moderator Gwen Ifill and NPR correspondent and Texas native Wade Goodwyn correctly recognized this as the “worst drought in Texas history”, the word “climate” was not even uttered. (Neither was it mentioned in the 3 minutes of coverage on the flooding from Hurricane Irene.) With the governor of the state embarked on a vicious anti-science campaign, shouldn’t the question at least have been asked? Apparently the reporters have bought into the inane prayer meme:
GWEN IFILL: As you talk to people, to farmers, to ranchers, to people who depend on rain, do they have any innovative or alternative ideas about how to cope with this crisis, other than to get down on their knees and pray for rain?
WADE GOODWYN: Not really.
Some of the viewers evidently did get the message, anyway:
Doug Stewart said:
I listened and watched in shock tonight and Gwen Hill and Wade Goodwyn, both whom I have long respected, discussed the drought in Texas puzzled while failing to connect the dots to make the connection between global warming and CO2 production. Wade’s only solution was to pray for rain. What has happened to your courage and objectivity?
Gordon Pricd said:
Again, a story on the Texas drought – and not a mention of climate change. Given the position of Governor Perry – that climate science is essentially fraudulent – isn’t a question journalistically justifiable. Indeed, demanded?
If climate change is no longer a topic that can be credibly raised in the context of some of the worst-ever droughts and floods in the nation’s history – major items on the same program – then that’s a story all on it’s own.
Most inane coverage and questioning by Gwen Ifil I could imagine. Worst draught in Texas history, Governor of Texas running for president who doesn’t “believe in” global warming. But not one question about climate change and maybe the connection? Why is that?
Nielsen-Gammon has some more charts on just how off-the-chart this drought is. Here’s the historical distribution of August temperatures:
He notes, “We’re on track for an August average temperature of 88.1 F. There’s still time for it to change by a few tenths, but not only will we shatter the previous August record (by over 2 F), but we’ll also break the all-time record for warmest month by about 1 F. The all-time record, by the way, was set just last month.“
Here’s another amazing chart:
The graphic [above] shows that what is the worst one-year drought overall for Texas in the last 100 years is also the worst one-year drought at 55.8% of all locations in the state. The dark-red shading denotes 2011 as absolutely the worst one-year drought in the past 100 years throughout almost all of western Texas as well as many parts of eastern Texas such as Houston.
Places where 2011 does not rank as #1 don’t necessarily imply that the drought is less severe there, only that one or more previous droughts have been more severe. Second on the list is 1925 (brown), which is the one-year drought leader for large parts of eastern Texas from Temple, Austin, and eastern San Antonio all the way to the Louisiana border. So if you’re included in that area, know that as bad as the drought is in 2011, it has been worse. The 1925 drought does not show especially prominently in the statewide statistics because the western half of Texas was wet during 1925.
I should note that these assessments only include precipitation. The especially warm temperatures associated with this year’s drought make the 2011 impacts somewhat worse than what would have been produced by the same amount of rain in 1925.
Let’s end with Climate Wire, which has some of the human stories of this epic tragedy in its piece, “Record-setting agricultural disaster in Texas gets ‘worse by the day‘ ” (subs. req’d):
After scanning the landscape surrounding this tiny (population 757) central Texas town, one immediately understands why the city’s officials have decided to scratch the word “cotton” from the annual September Cotton Festival.In normal years, these fields would be overflowing with lush cotton crops ripe for harvesting. The locals say that around this time, it’s typical to see the Miles central collection point so overflowing with cotton it looks like someone tore open a giant pillow. But the drought of 2011 has completely devastated the crop. Acres of flat brown patches are all that’s left….
The Texas Department of Agriculture says the record-setting drought that began in October has resulted in a staggering $5.2 billion in losses for rural farm communities, the greatest seasonal loss on record. Cattle ranchers have lost $2 billion, while the hit to the cotton industry is put at about $1.8 billion. That’s just a preliminary estimate of the overall damage and doesn’t include smaller crops like lettuce.
“I’ve been involved in cattle and calf production my entire life, and I have never seen these types of conditions across Texas,” said Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in an interview. “Texans are suffering through the worst one-year drought on record, and this calamity is just getting worse by the day.”
Texas provides the “hell” — while Irene provides the “High Water” — in Hell and High Water. Yet this uber-extreme weather will probably be a not-terribly-unusual summer in Texas by around mid-century, if climate science deniers like Governor Rick Perry continue to be successful in blocking serious climate action — and if the media continues to refuse to connect any dots whatsoever.