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Friday, while millions of Americans recovered at home from Turkey-induced torpors, the Trump administration released a report on climate change that forecasts a grim future for Texas.
The National Climate Assessment found the state could face thousands of deaths and billions in property damage as a result of climate patterns linked to greenhouse gas emissions.
The report from the United States Global Change Research Program discusses climate change not as threats existing on the horizon – but as something Texans have been living with for years. One way that’s happened is in the growing heat of the state, best exemplified by the great heat wave of 2011.
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If nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions the assessment finds that people in the “Southern Great Plains” region of the country, which includes Texas, “will experience an additional 30 to 60 days per year above 100 degrees” by the end of the century.
That’s on top of a massive increase in triple-digit-days in the same region over the last 20 years.
Austin, for example, averaged approximately 12 days of triple-digit heat through the 20th century. Since the turn of the century, it’s averaged over 33.
That increase, the assessment notes, will result in more heat-related deaths, as well.
“Within the Southern Great Plains, changes in extreme temperatures are projected to result in an additional 1,300 deaths per year under a higher [greenhouse gas emission] scenario by the end of the century,” the report said. “Under a lower scenario, more than half of these additional deaths could be avoided.”
Texas’ propensity to swing from drought to floods over the past 50 years is also expected to increase as more greenhouse gas is trapped in the atmosphere.
Those droughts could bring “future conditions possibly drier than anything experienced by the region during at least the past 1,000 years” and will deplete Texas water resources.
The Edwards Aquifer, which supplies water to much of Central Texas, will see a decrease in supply during droughts, according to the report.
“These climate change impacts will be exacerbated in Central Texas’s rapidly urbanizing regions, as increasing impervious cover will affect water quality and rates of runoff and recharge,” researchers concluded.
The report recommends conservation and new regulation of water resources. It also highlights stricter regulation of water in the Colorado River, where Austin gets its drinking water, as an example of how water-management has changed in the state as a result of climate-driven drought.
The flip side of those droughts is stronger storms which also threaten the state. While those storms increase flood risk even in non-coastal Texas, rising sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures along the Gulf Coast could magnify the destructive force of storms like Hurricane Harvey.
In addition, the report says sea levels along the coast have risen 5 to 17 inches over the last century, and that those living along the coasts could see rises of up to 8 feet – more than twice the global average of 1 to 4 feet.
The report says a 1,000-square-mile area in Texas is within 5 feet of the so-called high-tide line, an area “including $9.6 billion in current assessed property value and homes to about 45,000 people.”