Facing a future with longer, more intense droughts and more frequent heat waves, Oklahoma needs to begin working now to adapt to the effects that global climate change will bring to the Great Plains, a state climate scientist said Wednesday.
The White House on Tuesday released a report saying the effects of climate change are already being felt across the nation and that residents of the Plains should expect hotter, drier conditions as those effects intensify.
Mark Shafer, a researcher at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey in Norman, was one of 300 experts who contributed to the study. Shafer said Oklahomans could expect to see hotter summers within the next few decades.
By 2050, the state could see an entire month of high temperatures above 102 degrees during the summer. By century’s end, daily high temperatures could top 102 degrees for the entire summer, he said. That extreme heat will intensify evaporation, making droughts more severe, Shafer said.
Winters in Oklahoma will be warmer as well, Shafer said, leading to a shorter dormancy period for winter wheat.
Although the report paints a grim picture of the nation’s future, Shafer said it gives state policy makers an opportunity to begin to look at how climate change will affect the state’s economy, ecology and society, and begin to adapt to those changes.
Nationwide, public policy makers and private organizations already are beginning to plan for climate change and adapt to its effects, according to the report. But so far, few of those plans have been implemented, and those that have been enacted are mostly incremental changes, the report states.
Much of western Oklahoma already is experiencing crippling drought conditions. According to a U.S. Drought Monitor report released last week, 39 percent of the state is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought — the monitor’s two most severe categories. Just more than 79 percent of the state is experiencing some form of drought, the report shows.