Monday, January 29, 2007

Map Shows Warming Trend in Texas

We know things are getting warmer, but it's very hard to visualize how catastrophic climate change might impact Texas. Last year's record-breaking temperatures, coupled with the worst drought in fifty years, gave us a preview of things to come, but dry, cracked reservoirs don't compare with glaciers melting and crashing into the sea. Dying livestock can't capture the public's attention like polar bears drowning.

The current cold snap not withstanding...

...last year was the warmest on record in the Dallas area and the contiguous United States, and winters have been more temperate as well. Eight of the last 10 years, the average low temperature at D/FW was warmer than the 30-year average. As for extremes, the annual lowest temperature at D/FW averaged 11.1 degrees in the 1980s, increasing to 15.9 degrees in the 1990s and 17.8 degrees so far this decade. Temperatures bottomed out at 20 degrees last month and have dropped to 25 so far in January.

The National Arbor Day Foundation has developed a new hardiness zone map, which divides the U.S. into regions based on the coldest low temperature for an area. Comparing the new map to the previous one, we can begin to quantify the climate trends within the state. Now we can actually visualize how the zones are clearly and steadily moving northward.

"The map shows that the winter temperatures have increased across Texas and much of the nation since 1990. For example, the map's Zone 8 now includes all of North Texas, much of which previously lay in the cooler Zone 7. Less brutal winters suggest the region is more hospitable to a wider array of plants.

Oh, yeah! We can grow bananas in Dallas. Of course, that assumes that water is plentiful. The problem is, as temperatures rise, so does the evaporation rate. Interstate I-35 roughly serves as the dividing line between the area where rainfall exceeds evaporation to the east, and where evaporation exceeds rainfall to the west. The maps show temperature changes over a sixteen year period. If the trend continues, some scientsts project a six degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature across Texas. That would require a 50% increase in rain just to maintain the status quo --a scenario that seems highly unlikely.

Maybe somebody should ask our governor how that might affect our economic competitiveness.

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