Climate variability

Southern Plains Climate Hub helps land managers build resilience to climate variability


Posted by Jean Steiner, Head of Climate Centers at USDA Southern Plains in

Feb 21 2017

Windswept farmland in Kansas during the Dust Bowl.

The southern plains states of the United States have always been known for their rugged climate. Stories of this region’s unstable climate abound. Whether you’re talking about Pecos Bill making a tornado in Texas, Dorothy swept away by a tornado in the Land of Oz, or the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma where “the wind blows across the plains,” the three of the southern plains. have a well-deserved reputation for extreme weather events. Never has this been more exposed than in 2015. Earlier this year, the states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas suffered for four long years of extreme drought even greater than those that ravaged the region. during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. These extreme weather conditions cost the region’s agriculture well over $ 20 billion and strained water supplies in many communities. Then, in what seemed like a blink of an eye, in a repeat of what has happened so many times in the past, the extreme drought on the southern plains was finally interrupted by extreme rainfall.

May 2015 is now the wettest month in Texas and Oklahoma history. In Texas, the statewide average precipitation for May 2015 was 8.81 inches, breaking the old record of 6.66 inches. In Oklahoma, more than 14.40 inches of rain fell in the same month, erasing the old record of 10.75 inches. Kansas also experienced heavy rains, and while these storms did not set the overall record in Sunflower State, the precipitation total for many Kansas communities for the month of May was greater than anything. they had recorded in over 100 years.

Extreme weather conditions are nothing new to the southern plains. We have seen droughts and floods before. What is new is the level of intensity and volatility of these events and what is really interesting is that this increase in extreme weather is playing out just for what experts say are the effects of climate change. will be in the area. When you talk about the effects of climate change in the southern plains, you basically mean that the mad weather in the region will get crazier and crazier and with this increase in volatility and severity, the agricultural industry of the region and its rural communities will face an ever increasing set of challenges. . The good news is that the USDA, through its various agencies and partners, has several programs and initiatives to help agricultural producers and our rural areas adapt to the effects of climate change while helping to tackle some of the root causes of the phenomenon. As part of our work on this global effort, we, at USDA Southern Plains Climate Center have worked to identify these programs and highlight their benefits in our region while identifying ways to build on their successes. We have helped facilitate research both through traditional USDA channels and through other agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory, to help identify multiple benefits. USDA’s natural resource programs, including climate change mitigation and adaptation. We have worked with our sister agencies USDA to facilitate demonstration farms both in partnership with cooperating farmers and ranchers on private land and on traditional research farms, to help identify and highlight adaptation and mitigation strategies that correspond to the specific geographic, cultural and economic challenges of the different ecoregions of the southern plains while ensuring that the economic results are profitable for the agricultural producers of the region.

Many other USDA programs also continue to help address climate change and its effects on rural America. Programs such as those that provide protection to farmers and ranchers through the Risk Management Agency (RMA); initiatives designed to save energy, reduce emissions and support rural infrastructure at the rural development (R&D) level; research and development of new and improved farming and husbandry practices by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) have funded projects designed to help the agriculture to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change all have a role to play in helping our entire nation (not just rural areas) meet the many natural resource challenges we will face in the future. . The USDA Southern Plains Climate Hub will continue to work with all of these key players in the Department of Agriculture to facilitate their good work, identify ways to improve USDA’s existing efforts, and help ensure that our farmers, ranchers and rural communities have the tools they need to meet the challenge created by our changing climate.

We need to understand that the future will be more difficult for all of us as we struggle to cope with the effects of climate change. The good news is that today the USDA already has many tools to help our country adapt to these difficult times while reducing our impact on the climate as we move forward.

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