LOYAL, Okla. (KFOR) — Over the past few months, weather extremes have dominated the headlines – from deadly wildfires to coral-killing ocean temperatures and rare tropical storms. But how do those disasters tie to Oklahoma?
4Warn Storm Team Meteorologist Emily Sutton spoke to climate experts and local farmers to find out. She headed to Loyal, Oklahoma to a centennial farm where Jacquelyn Pope’s great grandfather homesteaded a century ago.
The Pope family grows wheat and runs cattle. Over the last several years, they’ve had to accommodate to the rapidly changing climate.
“Lately the last few years, we haven’t had much of any snow out here. It’s gotten so dry. It doesn’t seem like the same place,” Jacquelyn said.
Warm, dry La Nina winters have punished the wheat crop and demanded ranchers haul water to their cattle. Without consistent cold, insects migrate farther north than they ever have before – which means more disease.
Jacquelyn’s son, Clay Pope, says that cattle can handle weather changes but the constant temperature swings can take a toll:
“We’ve always had nutty weather in the southern plains. Hell, we’re ‘where the wind comes sweeping down the plains,’ it’s in our state song. But basically, what’s happened is the crazy weather we’ve always had got shot full of steroids.”
Clay says that all of these factors affect the bottom line.
The term “climate change” can be triggering and political in recent times but Clay says, “at the end of the day, you don’t have to believe in climate change to believe in droughts and floods.”
Weather is what we experience every day, climate is calculated. Climate is weather averaged over decades.
In the past twenty years, Oklahoma farmers have been adapting to climate change through various methods, like “no till agriculture” and cover crops. Both ward off another dust bowl.
“The nice thing about it, from an agriculture standpoint, nine times out of ten, the same things that you want to do to adapt to extreme weather also helps mitigate climate change,” Clay said.
Meteorologist Emily Sutton and photojournalist Kevin Josefy traveled to the South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center in Norman to speak to climate experts about the future of Oklahoma.
Deputy Director of the South Central CASC, Michael Langston, warns us that at this rate, the future doesn’t look good.
“Many of us in Oklahoma talk about the crazy weather that we’re experiencing now, that is an example of the kind of extremes that we’re already noticing here in our state,” Langston said. “But down the road, that is going to be normal to our grandchildren, but they will experience even greater extremes and that’s what really worries me is for our future generations.”
Langston says that USGS funded climate models are in high agreement that over the next fifty years, Oklahoma can expect our average temperatures to be hotter by two to five degrees, depending on carbon emissions.
In a low carbon emissions scenario, Oklahoma City can expect an average of ten additional 100-degree days each summer. With higher carbon emissions, it could climb as high as an additional twenty to thirty 100-degree days!
As far as precipitation, Langston says, “modeling shows that in the western part of the state, we could see as much as a ten percent decrease in our rainfall by mid-century. It will be more intense storms and it will be more intense storms and there will be longer gaps between the storms.”
He adds that modeling shows an equal amount of rain in eastern Oklahoma but in high rain events, followed by flash drought. Langston says that our state needs to update infrastructure to adapt to prolonged droughts and flooding rains.
For any doubters, Langston says, “the data is very clear. So people who doubt the data should probably take a closer look at it.”
Climate whiplash will test the resolve of Oklahoma farmers and all Oklahomans. Climate experts warn that we need to adapt to more extreme weather events and take action to protect our land, our economy and our planet. Go to drawdown.org for ways you can help.