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The drought that has gripped southwest Oklahoma and the Texas Rolling Plains for the last three plus years is likely to persist in 2014.
Low lake levels
Rupp also commented on lake levels, which in the Rolling Plains of Texas and Southwest Oklahoma are at historical lows. The lake at Altus, from which much of the area gets irrigation water, is at 11 percent of normal. Lake Steed is at 28 percent and Kemp is at 24 percent. Some lakes in West Texas are at zero, he said.
East of the Altus, Okla., and Vernon, Texas, area, lake levels are much better. Arbuckle is at 99.7 percent full and Thunderbird is at 100 percent capacity. Conditions on the caprock in the Texas High Plains are also better than in the Rolling Plains.
Rupp said Eastern Oklahoma and Texas are virtually drought-free. Drought may intensify in West Texas.
The climate future for the Southwest, Rupp said, “based on science and some opinion,” indicates a possibility of continued drought and high temperatures. “It’s not the end of the world,” Rupp said. “But it is not good. That’s the honest truth.”
By 2040, some predictions indicate significant areas of Texas under desertification and semi-arid or arid. “For 2040, we have one word — extremes. Extremes will be the new normal. Brief extreme weather events will be more rare and frequent and long heat waves, wildfires, dense dust storms and long-term drought will be common. If precipitation average in 2014 is 28 inches per year, it could drop to 25 inches by 2026 and to 22 inches by 2040. “We’re getting dangerously close to arid conditions at that point,” Rupp said. Summertime temperatures also could rise to 120 degrees. “People can live at 120 degrees,” he said, “but they must adapt. And ranchers will have to determine what to do with cattle in 120-degree heat.”
Climate change, Rupp said, is real. Whether it’s manmade or natural makes no difference. “I don’t care either way. If it’s manmade, companies are not going to change and if it’s natural there is nothing we can do about it. So, you have to adapt. Look at what you did differently in 2011 to survive and apply that to management.”
The financial impact of climate change could be significant, Rupp said. The cost of insurance will increase but land values may decrease. “Rivers will periodically go dry, as the Red River did in 2011. Lake levels will be permanently low and water use restrictions will be in place. Some small towns will go dry.”
He said extremes have already occurred, including the Wichita River flood, Christmas blizzards in 2009 and 2012, long-term drought, and regional wildfires.
“It’s happening. Climate change is undeniable and it’s in our own backyard. And we can’t change it.”