ENVIRONMENT Climatologist says future megadrought could harm Lake Travis area, other nearby locales
Central Texas, climatologists and activists are call- ing for Texans to be vigilant of water usage and plan ahead. “Be conscious that water doesn’t just appear from the tap,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “It’s stored, extracted and treated. Sometimes there’s plenty of water, and sometimes there isn’t. Being able to reduce water use is an important capability to have.” Drought in Central Texas Due to regional population growth, climate pre- dictions and rain variability, the future drought in Texas may actually be a megadrought, which lasts at least two decades, Nielsen-Gammon said. Megadrought is caused by natural climate cycles and human-induced climate change, which clima- tologists such as Nielsen-Gammon said will cause higher average temperatures that increase evapora- tion rates and affect the intensity of rainfall. “Texas isn’t in a megadrought right now, but one is always possible,” he said. “Low [lake] levels will probably happen again sometime, but it depends on both the weather and on water use. There’s no tell- ing when it will happen again.” Rainfall variability also plays a large role in deter- mining the likelihood of megadrought. Texas has historically had unpredictable rainfall patterns, making it difficult to predict when drought may occur, Nielsen-Gammon said. All the pieces are there, but whether they fall into place is dependent
BY GRACE DICKENS
By the latter half of the 21st century, worsening long-term drought conditions in Texas could put strain on Lake Travis as a natural, recreational and financial resource for western Travis County and beyond, said Nielsen-Gammon and Jo Karr Tedder, president of the Central Texas Water Coalition. Under these conditions, drought is the new nor- mal, Nielsen-Gammon said. Restricted water use and lower lake levels become permanent fixtures in the life of Central Texans, and everyday activities such as lawn watering become a privilege. To mitigate effects of long-term drought on
Western Travis County faced abnormally dry to severe drought conditions throughout March, April and into May, with several “Red Flag” days indicating high risk of fire issued by the National Weather Service. While these conditions are cause for concern, state of Texas Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon predicts long-term drought, known as megadrought, could be in Texas’ future. This type of drought is dif- ferent from the one occurring in Travis County as well as the drought of 2008-15.
TURNING UP THE HEAT
Drought occurs when there is less-than-average rainfall for an area over a certain period of time. Megadrought occurs when a drought lasts longer than two decades. Projections show Texas could experience a megadrought in its future, with higher average temperatures and more 100-degree days compared with current levels.
48.8 days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-21st century*
+34 days ≥ 100 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-21st century*
103.6 degrees Fahrenheit average mid-century summer temperature*
+3.9 degrees Fahrenheit higher annual average 7-day temperature
SOURCE: TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES/COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
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