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May 7, 2014

Climate change will make Great Plains hotter, drier

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Climate change will bring more drought, fierce storms and searing heat to the Great Plains, causing hardships that will test the region’s legendry capacity to cope with severe weather, says a report by the National Climate Assessment.

The eight-state region extending from Texas to Montana by way of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Wyoming will share one transcendent challenge: water.

Triple digits: The Southern Plains region averages seven days a year with triple-digit temperatures. That number should quadruple by mid-century, while the Northern Plains should get twice as many 100-degree days as they do now.

The hotter conditions will bring greater evaporation of surface waters, inflict heat stress on people and animals and raise demand for air conditioning.

Other extreme weather will include heavy rainfall and more intense tropical storms and hurricanes along Texas’ Gulf coast, where rising sea levels could worsen damage from storm surges.

Water woes: Water scarcity will hamper the region’s energy production. Competition for water to cool electric plants and to drill for oil and natural gas using hydraulic fracturing will intensify. Marginal lands will become deserts, while the rain that does fall will often come during storms that will increase flooding, degrade stream quality and erode topsoil.

Agriculture: In the Northern Plains, expected increases in winter snowfall and spring rain may help crops during the early growing season, although some fields may be too wet to plant. Longer growing seasons may allow cultivation of second annual crops. But pest insects that previously died off in winter will increasingly survive, and winter crops that leave dormancy too soon will be vulnerable to spring freezes.

Farming will be hit hard in the central and southern Plains, as rainfall declines and higher temperatures increase evaporation. Demand for irrigation will rise, and the Ogallala and High Plains aquifers will be further depleted. Livestock will suffer from heat and feed grain production may slump.

—AP

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