Scientists are warning that climate change is here and it is already affecting our lives.
"Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been burning increasing amounts of coal, oil and gas. This is the primary reason why climate is changing today," said Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech Climate Science Center Director and lead author on the recently released Third U.S. National Climate Assessment.
Hayhoe went on to explain that, in the past, climate changed due to natural factors alone; however today, all of those natural factors have an alibi, and they can’t be blamed for the current warming.
The report released Tuesday is the result of a three-year effort in which over 300 climate scientists contributed their input.
The assessment looks at how climate change will affect the country.
For Southeast Texas, the message being sent isn't just about temperatures going up, but rather our weather is becoming more extreme with natural hazards, like hurricanes, heavy rainfall and droughts, becoming more intense.
"Climate change matters because it is changing the risks associated with these events," said Hayhoe.
Those anticipated risks include more powerful storm surges, severe storm flooding and a negative impact on our health.
"Climate change interacts with our existing vulnerabilities," said Hayhoe. "We are already vulnerable to storms. We are already vulnerable to hurricanes. We are already vulnerable to flood, and we are already vulnerable to drought. Climate change is going to exacerbate the same problems we already deal with today."
More Rain Expected
According to the report, our area will get more precipitation from storms including hurricanes.
Hayhoe explains that as the earth warms more water evaporates into the atmosphere, "so when a storm comes along, then there will be more water vapor in the air for it to pick up and dump on us."
The report points out that, "projections of future climate over the U.S. suggest that the recent trend towards increased heavy precipitation events will continue."
This doesn't mean we will see more rainy days bringing in more manageable amounts of rain.
That means when storms push showers over the region, there will be larger amounts of rainfall, on average, in any given event which could lead to more flooding, especially in urban areas where there is more concrete.
A storm doesn't have to be a hurricane to be a heavy rain producer.
"On average, any storm, whether hurricane or not, will have more precipitation associated with it because, as temperature increases, so does humidity," she said.
More Powerful Hurricanes
When hurricane season does arrive, the report states that although we are not likely to see any change in the number of storms due to climate change, we will see more frequent strong hurricanes in categories 4 or 5 as compared to less intense category 1 or 2 hurricanes.
"In the case of hurricanes, we aren't seeing more frequent hurricanes and we don’t expect to in the future," Hayhoe explained, "but what we are seeing is the ocean water is heating up. So when a hurricane come along, it gets more energy from the ocean, and we are seeing stronger hurricanes as a result."
The report says, "...almost all existing studies project greater rainfall rates in hurricanes in a warmer climate, with projected increases of about 20% averaged near the center of hurricanes."
Stronger Storm Surge And Faster Sea Level Rising
Another concern connected to hurricanes the report discusses is sea level rising and storm surge.
"Texas’ Gulf Coast averages about three tropical storms or hurricanes every four years, generating coastal storm surge and sometimes bringing heavy rainfall and damaging winds hundreds of miles inland," said the report. "The expected rise in sea level will result in the potential for greater damage from storm surge along the Gulf Coast of Texas."
Globally, sea level has gone up about 8 inches since the late 1800s.
Researchers warn in the report that sea level could rise another 1 to 4 feet by the end of the century.
"When we get those storm surges, they are going to have more water associated with them. This means that areas are going to be flooded that would not have been flooded if we didn't have sea level rise," explained Hayhoe. "And, with sea level being 8 inches higher already, we are already seeing that today."
The report speculates that with continued sea level rising, marshes will extend along Texas’ Gulf Coast as the most low-lying coastal areas become permanently inundated.
More Intense Droughts
Even though more rain is predicated on average for our region, that doesn't mean droughts are out of the question.
There is a natural pattern of wet and dry years in Texas' history.