Category Archives: Variability, Weather, & Extreme Events

Adapting to Climate Change in the Yakima Basin: Agriculture’s Volatility and Tradeoffs

By Aaron Whittemore, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

field seen under the arm of a central pivot irrigation system

Fifty percent of the Yakima Basin’s agriculture is irrigated. Photo: Vidar Mathisen, Unsplash.

The Yakima River Basin is a snow-dependent, agriculturally important region in Washington state, leading in production of many commodities and specialty crops. Nearly 50% of agricultural production in the Yakima Basin is irrigated, and is vulnerable to future expected temperature increases and severe droughts. Researchers at Cornell and Washington State Universities, led by Dr. Keyvan Malek, evaluated the impacts of changes in temperature, water availability, and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on irrigated agriculture in this Basin and examined the effectiveness of potential strategies to mitigate the negative effects on crop yields.

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Check it out: Learning for the Future from a Snapshot in Time

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Report cover with name and a photo of a vegetable field with slanting sunlight and trees in the background

The 2021 Pacific Northwest Water Year Assessment, an example of what we can learn one year that helps us prepare for the long term. Source: cover of the report, available at https://www.drought.gov/documents/2021-pacific-northwest-water-year-impacts-assessment

I just received the 2021 Pacific Northwest Water Year Impacts Assessment. If you want to delve into the details of how temperatures and precipitation evolved throughout the water year (which runs from October 1 through September 30), check out section 3. If you want to understand what the unusual combination of conditions we experienced meant for the agriculture, forestry, drinking water, fisheries, and recreation sectors, check out section 4. If you want to learn about institutional responses to these conditions, then check out section 5. You can even explore how well the seasonal forecasting used by many in the region did at predicting what actually happened (section 6).

This report really got me thinking about the question: what can we learn from the assessment of this one year (granted, it was an unusual year) that can help us prepare for what’s to come as the climate continues to warm? Continue reading

Extreme Adaptation: Navigating the Troubled Waters of the ‘New Normal’

By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at Washington State University

This article is part of a series, Climate Friendly Fruit & Veggies, highlighting work from the Fruit & Vegetable Supply Chains: Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Opportunities (F&V CAMO) project, a collaborative research study co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborators include researchers at the University of Arkansas, University of Illinois, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services, and Washington State University. This project seeks to identify and test climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.

 

Water. H 2 O. It’s the dominant molecule of our lives. We are 60% water (on average). Life as we know it is only possible because our planet has so much water. We can survive a few weeks without food, but only a few days without water. The oceans are believed to have formed around 4 billion years ago, and so are nearly as old as the planet itself. The hydrologic cycle—the series of processes by which water evaporates from those oceans, condenses as clouds, and then returns to the earth as freshwater—forms the primary basis for our existence.

Map of the US, with most of the midwest and east showing increases in average precipitation, and most of the west, especially the southwest, showing decreases

Figure 1. Comparison of the ‘new normal’ annual precipitation averages (1991-2020) with the previous 30-year averages (1981-2010). Source: NOAA.

Water is actually the most important greenhouse gas: without water in the atmosphere, the average temperature of our planet would be around 0°F… a mammoth version of those chic, spherical ice ‘cubes.’ But the average temperature of the earth is 60°F and climbing. As the world’s oceans continue to warm, water evaporates more rapidly, and the hydrologic cycle accelerates. All that water must come back down somewhere, so annual precipitation levels across the planet are also increasing. Continue reading

Recent News Stories on Agriculture and Climate Change – Why Now?

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

 

Flier for the Agriculture in a Changing Climate Workshop in 2016

AgClimate.net has been discussing all aspects of climate change and agriculture for years, as exemplified by a 2016 workshop AgClimate.net co-sponsored.

On AgClimate.net, we have been discussing impacts on agriculture resulting from a changing climate for years now. We also discuss practices or approaches that show promise for helping producers adapt to the changes to come. And we discuss the ways that the agricultural sector can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions or, conversely, capture carbon, mainly in soils. Recently, however, it appears that these kinds of issues are front and center for a much broader swath of the agricultural sector. What might be driving this shift? Could it be another example of the pandemic highlighting other vulnerabilities? Or is interest shifting because of scientists’ ability to better tease out the contribution that climate change is making to recent extreme events that are impacting our region? Continue reading

Resources for Navigating the Confluence of Drought and Wildfire

By Luke Brockman, Oregon State University, Forestry and Natural Resources Extension, Fire Program

 

Open fields transition to forested hillsides, with two large smoke plumes and dense smoke across the landscape. A firefighting plane crosses in front of the smoke

Drought is an important contributing factor to the dry conditions necessary for wildfire to spread to the levels we see today. Photo: USDA Forest Service under CC BY 2.0

Climate change is driving record high temperatures across the world, and among the effects in the Pacific Northwest is the increased severity of drought, which contributes to conditions already setting the stage for intense wildfires. Projected agricultural impacts of drought include losses in wheat, barley, and Christmas tree production. Additionally, the drought extremity we are experiencing this year correlates with the severity of wildfires, since drought is an important contributing factor to the dry conditions necessary for wildfire to spread to the levels we see today. Consider that this year’s wildfire season has been 19 times worse in terms of acreage burned than last year’s—more than 1 million acres by mid-August and counting in just Oregon and Washington, compared to a mere 52,000 acres at the same time last year––and conditions are likely to worsen in the coming years.

Gathering science-based, real-time information about wildfires burning in your state is important, but can certainly be a challenge when distracting “Breaking News” headlines and a whole host of other less than informative publications shroud your search results. Read on for some examples of how two online resources, drought.gov and the Inciweb site, can get you started with up-to-date information about drought, wildfire, and the effects that the changing climate is having on our neck of the woods. Continue reading

What Can We Learn from the ‘Pacific Northwest Heat Dome’ of 2021?

By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Close up of leaves and berries, with leaves curled and with large brown areas, and most berries tan colored, contrasting with one black berry

Heat wave damage to a commonly grown blackberry cultivar, Columbia Star (photo taken July 1, 2021). Photo courtesy of Dr. Bernadine Strik.

It wasn’t just hot in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) during the last week of June. It was extraordinarily hot. Temperatures at Oregon State University’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) in Aurora, Oregon, reached a high of 113°F on June 28, with a nighttime low of 85°F. It wasn’t just one day of scorching temperatures, though—much of the PNW experienced more than three consecutive days of highs in the triple digits, with lows staying above 65°F. With temperatures peaking in Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, at 121°F, some outlets are calling this multi-day event a heat dome. Growers are feeling the impact of June’s high temperatures. How does this type of heat affect staple and specialty crops, and how can the agricultural industry in the Pacific Northwest best prepare for events like this to come? Read on for some insights from the June heat dome.

A wide variety of crops were impacted by the record-setting heat, notably berries, cherries, and even some vegetables across the region. Continue reading

Animal Alert: Heat Wave on its Way May Cause Problems for Livestock Producers and Their Animals

By Donald A. Llewellyn, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Livestock Extension Specialist, Washington State University Extension, and

Craig McConnel, DVM, Ph.D., Associated Professor/Veterinary Medicine Extension, Washington State University Extension

Cattle in the shade of two small trees surrounded by open rangeland

Providing shade, in addition to cool, clean water and avoiding stressful handling can help livestock weather heat waves. Photo provided by Don Llewellyn.

A heat wave is expected to engulf much of the Inland Northwest over the next week with daytime temperatures above 100 degrees in many areas.  These temperatures will put livestock and pet well-being at risk.  Commercial producers and youth with animal projects should prepare now for the upcoming heat and dangerous conditions.  Here are a few general suggestions to keep your animals safe, but also keep in mind each of the various species of domesticated animals with have specific needs.

  • Avoid stressful handling of livestock and if necessary only do so in the early morning hours or late in the evening.
  • If animals are in a barn or shed, ensure that they have proper ventilation and air circulation.
  • For animals outside, provide shade if possible.
  • Provide a continuous supply of cool, clean water.

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What Does Climate Change Mean for Flooding in the Columbia River Basin?

By Karen Hills

Aerial view of farms along a river with flood waters in fields and around buildings

Figure 1. The Pacific Northwest was hit by an historic flood in February 1996. Corps dams were put to the test and held back as much of the flood waters as possible, but too much rain fell in the valley below the dam. As a result, many communities in western Oregon felt the impacts of the flood waters. Photo: Portland Corps under CC BY 2.0.

Previous posts on AgClimate.net have focused on research related to anticipated climate change impacts on water availability and timing of available irrigation water in the Columbia River Basin, given the concern with having sufficient water to support the range of uses in the region. But is too little water the only concern? Laura Queen of the Oregon State University Climate Change Research Institute is the author of a recently published paper titled “Ubiquitous increases in flood magnitude in the Columbia River Basin under climate change.” Queen and her colleagues explain how in systems dominated by snowmelt, as is common in the Pacific Northwest, observational studies have shown consistent changes toward earlier spring streamflow and lower summer streamflow. This change has important implications for water users in the region. Less frequently discussed are the anticipated impacts on flooding (Figure 1), which is second only to fire in federal disaster declarations brought about by natural disasters in the Pacific Northwest. Continue reading

Check it out: Putting Oregon’s September Fires in Past—and Future—Context

By Sonia A. Hall

Roadside Fire Danger sign showing "Extreme" danger

Fire danger was considered extreme on and around Labor Day 2020. Close to the Beachie Fire in Marion County, OR. Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation, under CC BY 2.0.

Most of us probably agree that 2020 was an unprecedented year in many ways. Much of the western U.S. will remember 2020 for, among other things, the extensive fires that burned across many states. One of those states is Oregon, where climatic and weather conditions converged during Labor Day to enable large fires across the western slopes of the Cascades. Check out climatologists John Abatzoglou, David Rupp, and Larry O’Neill’s article titled Climate Enabling Conditions and Drivers of the Western Oregon Wildfires of 2020. They discuss the conditions that enabled these fires, and provide some historical context for their occurrence. Spoiler alert: their concluding paragraph states that “The best science available indicates that the conditions that enable large wildfires and wildfire seasons will become more common as a result of climate change and past and current land management and land use.” Many communities are heeding this information and working towards reducing vulnerabilities and improving resilience, to better deal with future fires. Please share with us and AgClimate.net readers those tools, resources and information you have found useful in such efforts.  You can comment on this post, or contact us via the Ask A Question tab.

A Review of Climate Change Research in the Columbia River Basin: Missing the Mark on Agriculture

By Paris Edwards

Stream through an alpine meadow, with a snowcapped mountain in the background

Headwater streams originate in mountainous areas and add critical snowmelt to summer and early fall stream flows. Slow and steady melt off of winter snowpack provides water during the dry season when crops need it most. Photo by Picasa, Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Our understanding of regional climate change effects today will be used to inform management, policy, and the new scientific endeavors of tomorrow. With this in mind, a team of doctoral students from the Water Resources Department at the University of Idaho in Moscow carried out a systematic review of all peer-reviewed studies through 2016 (550 of them) related to climate change in headwater regions of the Columbia River Basin. The purpose of the review was to explore what aspects of climate change impacts on water availability have been well studied, and where additional research is still needed (Marshall et al. 2020). We focused on mountain headwater regions because these critical water-generating areas are vulnerable to increasingly warm winter temperatures that contribute to snowpack losses and increased variability in the timing and volume of water available for multiple uses. Water availability supports values we care about and communities in our region, including irrigation; the future of irrigated agriculture in the Basin depends on water, and at least 20% of surface supply in the Basin is generated from melted snow. Continue reading