Increasingly common extreme weather conditions


The winter storm that hit Arkansas and much of the United States in mid-February may seem like an anomaly, but scientists have said extreme weather will likely become more common.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency predicts that Arkansas will continue to heat up over the coming decades. With that heat will come increased humidity and energy, which could produce more precipitation and winter storms, climatologist Katharine Hayhoe said.

Climate change is likely to increase inland flooding as well as more severe droughts for the natural state, threatening agriculture, one of the state’s most vital industries, according to the 2016 EPA report titled What Climate Change Means for Arkansas.

“We are very much at the mercy of the weather,” said Hallie, CEO of SFRSeed in Newport and a sixth generation farmer. “It’s hotter. When it dries, it dries; when it gets wet, it gets wetter.”

No weather event can be directly attributed to climate change. Weather is what the world experiences in the short term, like someone’s mood in one day, while climate is more like someone’s personality. Earth’s climate change is and likely will cause more frequent extreme weather conditions, changing our concepts of what normal weather looks like, Hayhoe said at the 2021 Regional Citizens Climate Tornado Regional Conference on February 20. .

This more gloomy climate affects many aspects of life. One area hard hit is and will be agriculture.


Several factors collided to bring in the cold air and humidity needed to cause the recent storm, said Dennis Cavanaugh, an alert coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.

One of the main factors at play was the polar vortex – a large area of ​​cold air high up in the atmosphere that normally rotates near the North Pole. This pressure system can and has become less stable, discharging cooler air southward, resulting in record temperatures, he said.

Parts of central Arkansas have experienced temperatures of around -8 degrees Fahrenheit, not seen since the 1950s. Arkadelphia set an all-time high of -11 degrees and Fayetteville at -20 F, according to the Weather Service.

The strong air current, the jet stream, from the Arctic merged with a subtropical jet stream from California to Texas and Arkansas. This provided tropical moisture to the Pacific Ocean, Cavanaugh said. More humidity came in from the Gulf of Mexico over Arkansas and combined with the cold air and humidity already in place and – as if that wasn’t enough – with an uplift of the storm systems coming from eastern Russia.

Snowfall has also shattered records in the state. In Little Rock alone, last month set records for the snowiest day ever in February at 11.8 inches on February 17 and the snowiest and most monthly February at 20.3 inches. . It was tied with 1918 for the highest snow depth on record at 15 inches.

“It provided the perfect environment with lots of cold air, enough humidity and a lot of lift to give us record snowfall throughout much of central and southern Arkansas,” Cavanaugh said.


Overall, winters are getting warmer, said Hayhoe, director of the Climate Center and associate in the public health program at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Texas Tech University.

Using his hometown of Lubbock, Texas as an example, Hayhoe said the baseline was changing. Lubbock experienced an average January temperature of 38.7 F from 1950 to 2000, but he regularly saw more years above that average. Since 2010, each month of January in the city is above average, according to the National Environmental Information Centers.

The country has fallen below its January average of 30.21 F once, by half a degree, since 2010.

“In the long term on climatic time scales, [the temperatures] are steadily increasing, even though we have warmer years and cooler ones, “she said.” Winter has become warmer than any season in Texas and much of the eastern United States. … We don’t even know what a normal winter looks like anymore. “

One factor that may seem counterintuitive given the record cold is that warmer air can carry more moisture. This can lead to an increase in heavy rainfall, Hayhoe said.

“So when a storm hits, there is more water vapor to pour over us than there would have been 100 or 50 years ago,” she said. “So even when it’s cold enough to snow, below freezing there is still more water vapor in the air. On the East Coast, they have seen an increase in heavier snowfall even as the winters have warmed. We got hot, hot, hot then a big giant snowstorm. “

This increase in water vapor due to higher temperatures equates to an incredible increase in available energy, Cavanaugh said.

“If you take any system and give it more power, more extreme things can happen,” he said. “Think about bumper cars: if you are at an amusement park in bumper cars that can go five miles an hour, you are rocking and having fun. If you add more energy – imagine those cars going on. moving at 10 or 15 miles an hour – you have the same bumper cars, but the reaction is much more intense. People could actually be injured. “

Compared to most countries, Arkansas hasn’t gotten much warmer in the past 50 to 100 years. The average temperature for January from 1901 to 2000 was 39.3 F for the state, according to National Environmental Information Centers. Since 2010, Arkansas has seen five January below that average and seven above, with a new average of around 40.1 F for that 12-year period.

That’s not to say he hasn’t felt the effects of the general warming trend. Annual precipitation has increased across much of the state, and more rain arrives during heavy downpours, according to the 2016 EPA report “What Climate Change Means for Arkansas.”

Over the next few decades, the state will get hotter, according to the report. Climate change is likely to lead to more extreme weather conditions, i.e. more severe floods and droughts, causing more storm damage, reduced crop yields, damage to livestock, increased number of hot days unpleasant and an increase in heat-related illnesses.


Some Arkansas farmers say they have already felt the effects of more extreme weather conditions, from the recent winter storm to droughts and flooding in recent years.

Extreme weather events can have very negative effects on agricultural production. Most crops are sensitive to high temperatures, reduced rainfall, flooding and untimely frost during critical growth phases, said John Bailey, director of commodities and regulatory affairs at the Federation of Agricultural Bureau of Arkansas.

The recent winter storm has been particularly difficult for the beef industry, which has seen many heifers and newborn calves sick or cold-killed due to damage to equipment and buildings, said Jessica Richard, who works with the cattle, dairy and horse divisions of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. .

It’s peak calving time and about 25 have died from the winter storm at Fawcett Ranch near Ashdown, others still sick, said Brett Fawcett, 59. He couldn’t remember it was so cold and getting so much snow at the same time, he said. Food trucks couldn’t come, her equipment didn’t work, and the pipes froze and flooded her home.

“It was tough, I’ll just tell you that,” Fawcett said. “I worked from daylight till nightfall trying to do all I can for them, but there’s not much you can do. … I know what I’ll do next time if it happens again. 20/20 retrospective.

In 70 years, Arkansas will likely have 30 to 60 days a year with temperatures above 95 ° C, compared to 15 to 30 days today, according to the EPA report. Hot weather causes cows to eat less and grow more slowly, and this can threaten their health.

Over the next few decades, hotter summers are likely to reduce corn and rice yields. However, the higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air could increase crop yields, which would likely offset the harmful effects of heat on soybeans and cotton. For farms without adequate irrigation, these increasingly severe droughts could lead to more crop failures.

Flooding in 2018 and 2019 and persistent rainfall in 2020 caused problems for farmers in Arkansas. Flooding is a huge problem in the delta, Shoffner said, and is only getting worse. The 2018 floods were the worst she and her father had ever seen, she said.

“2018 was the worst year I have ever seen, and my dad said it was one of the worst he has ever seen – he’s been cultivating for 60 years. It hasn’t stopped raining and the crops were crap, ”Shoffner said. “That same year of planting, there was an extreme drought. So it was difficult to plant plants in the ground and get them out of the ground. These are extremes.

“If you can’t harvest, then you can’t pay off your harvest loan. So where are you?”

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