Kansans can expect rising temperatures and more extreme flooding in the future, according to the latest National Climate Assessment.
Kansas has always experienced severe weather events. But as average temperatures rise, due in part to heat-trapping pollution released from fossil fuels, these severe weather events are predicted to become more extreme.
That means periods of drought will be more severe, while storms will be more intense and lead to greater flooding.
This cycle of long periods of drought followed by intense rainstorms will also create a greater risk of wildfire on Kansas rangeland.
So even though wildfire is a natural and regular occurence, the conditions in the future will mean it’s more likely these fires will burn faster and hotter and cover more territory.
While past droughts have been driven by climate variability, or natural changes that fall within observed ranges, climate change is likely to make the problem worse.
The report also predicts that by the end of the century, average temperatures in Kansas will rise as much as 4 degrees and the number of days above 100 degrees will increase by 20 to 30.
The impact of those changes will create winners and losers, both in ecosystems and among cities and states.
“Some plants will do great, some crops will do great in a warmer environment,” said Kevin Kloesel, lead author of the report's chapter on Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. “And then some won’t.
"So the question is, who will be the folks that will transition economically to those things that will do better first?”
The report predicts that if people do not adapt to or mitigate the risks associated with climate change, agricultural production will decrease, commodity prices will rise and human health, especially among the elderly, will suffer.
While Kansans are already adapting to some of the changes brought on by climate change, Kloesen said it’s mostly reactionary.
“It’s very hard to be proactive, sort of looking into the crystal ball, because there’s always that seed of doubt,” he said. “ 'OK, is that really going to happen? And did I do that needlessly?' ”
To have a greater impact, the report suggests individuals and communities need to make decisions based on possible future scenarios and do what they can now to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Brian Grimmett, based at KMUW in Wichita, is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a statewide collaboration between KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett.
Coverage of energy and the environment is made possible in part by ITC Great Plains and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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