Whether intensely dry or incredibly wet – weather extremes are nothing new in Texas but, as more people move into the state and more development takes place, the financial impact of these extremes takes a heavier toll.
A recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicated that 15 weather and climate disasters in the United States in 2016 each resulted in financial losses of $1 billion or more. Seven of these $1 billion-plus disasters directly impacted Texas, including flooding and hail storms. NOAA has indicated that the combined financial cost of these disasters in Texas has resulted in $10.6 billion in financial losses.
The Texas Water Resources Institute referred to extreme weather as “the new (and old) normal” in the Lone Star State.
Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon told the TWRI, “It’s fair to say Texas weather is unusually abnormal.” He attributed this in large part to the state’s location “at the crossroads of large-scale weather patterns.
“We’re one of the few places on the globe that is affected by what’s happening in both oceans,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Our rainfalls are affected in the wintertime fairly strongly by what’s happening in the Pacific Ocean. And in the summertime, there is a bit of an influence from the Atlantic Ocean.”
Nielsen-Gammon told the TWRI that climate models predict more extreme rainfall events for the state, and added that a study of the past century “shows a 20 to 40 percent increase in extreme rainfall.”
However, there will also be times when rainfall is scarce over a sustained period, research shows.
The TWRI also referenced a Columbia University study that showed by 2080, normal weather conditions would be similar to the recent multi-year drought that finally ended in 2015.
“Considering these predictions of a hotter, drier Texas that still sees extreme, flood-inducing rainfall events, what can the state do to manage resources and prepare for these extremes?” the Texas Water Resources Institute asked.
It responded by saying that some measures began following the intense drought that gripped the state in the 1950s, and referred to the 2017 State Water Plan, which details “5,500 water management strategies, which if implemented, would provide 8.5 million acre-feet of additional water supplies per year by 2070.”
Other efforts have also been devoted to helping alleviate the impact of severe floods. The TWRI pointed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s transfer of $6.8 million from Texas’ disaster contingency fund to help ensure there are enough accurate water gages and to provide for more floodplain management and planning.
Nielsen-Gammon told the TWRI that “hopefully, the actions taken will pay off in terms of less damage or less life lost the next time we have extreme flooding.”
Robert Mace, an administrator and hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board, said planning for the worst extremes is vital, and that it’s important to avoid a naïve sense of security that because an extreme event has recently occurred, it won’t happen again for a long time.
“People think that, ‘Oh, we just had a major five-year drought; that was a fluke,” he told TWRI. “We won’t have one of those again for a while,’ and they get complacent,” he said. “But, almost assuredly we will.”
He said the important step is to prepare well in advance of weather extremes. That starts with planning and with funding before weather events have caused a disaster in Texas.
More information on recent weather disasters and their financial impact can be found at https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/overview. The full Texas Water Resources Institute article on weather extremes can be found at http://twri.tamu.edu/publications/txh2o/fall-2016/extremely-expected/.