Category Archives: Variability, Weather, & Extreme Events

Check it out: Extreme Winter Weather Severely Impacts the Dairy and Cattle Industry

By Laurie Houston

Person walking through snow to a car buried in a drift which completely covers the fence behind it.

The February 9, 2019 blizzard in eastern Washington dumped 2-3 feet of snow, and winds created drifts that fully covered ditches and fences. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

If you live in the Northwest, you either experienced first-hand or certainly heard about this past week’s blizzard in eastern Washington State.  This area does not usually get much precipitation over the course of a year.  During the winter, they may typically get a few inches of snow in any given storm. This storm, however, took many people by surprise and dumped 2-3 feet of snow in parts of eastern Washington, while bringing in winds from the east and temperatures in the low teens. Over 1,600 dairy cows were killed in this freak blizzard. At an estimated $2,000 per head, that is a loss of $3,200,000, spread over a little more than a dozen farms. That is huge unforeseen expense for struggling farmers to absorb, and a large amount of dead animals to dispose of safely.

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Check it out: New Publication – Cultivating Climate Resilience on Farms and Ranches

By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

Sunset over a flooded agricultural landscape.

Farms and ranches are expected to face challenges as climate change leads to more extreme and variable weather. Photo: Flickr user Brent M. under CC BY 2.0.

USDA SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) recently published a new resource for land managers and those who advise them titled, “Cultivating Climate Resilience on Farms and Ranches.” This resource outlines some of the challenges that farmers and ranchers will face as climate change leads to more extreme and variable weather. While the resource is national in scope, there is a great table that briefly explores the observed and expected changes in weather across seven U.S. regions, including the Northwest (Table 1). Continue reading

Tools for Reducing the Increasing Forest Fire Risks

By Chris Schnepf

Rubble of a burned house, surrounded by scorched trees

Different factors can contribute to homes burning in catastrophic fires, including climate change and where people choose to build. Photo: C. Schnepf.

It was impossible to watch all the media coverage of the California fires last year, with many homes and forests burning, and not be moved. When large destructive fires like this hit, people have a natural desire to put some meaning to it. A variety of voices spoke of the changes in climate as being the culprit. Some pointed to fuel build-ups that were heavier than those forests had historically. Others pointed to people moving into parts of the landscape that were very fire prone, and suggested it was only a matter time before homes burned in forest fires. As with so many things, all these explanations for the impact of the fires contain some truth. Continue reading

Shared Data is a Key Part of Integrated Floodplain Management in the Puyallup Watershed

By Jordan Jobe, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

In the Puget Sound Region, it’s clear that climate change impacts will involve changes in precipitation that will impact agriculture, especially agriculture in floodplain areas (Mauger et al. 2015). However, it’s not yet known how precipitation pattern changes will combine with changes in stormwater run-off and sea-level rise… and how these changes might differ between different watersheds. Flood risk reduction folks want this information so that they know how to properly size new culverts. Fish folks want this information to place and design salmon habitat restoration projects.

A drainage ditch very full with brown, near-stagnant water.

Nancy’s Ditch, a key agricultural ditch in the Puyallup Watershed’s Clear Creek area, is consistently slow-flowing and full of water. Photo: J. Jobe.

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Engaging Climate Science through Citizen Science Apps

By Chris Schnepf

Queencup beadlily flowering on a forest floor

“Nature’s Notebook” is an app that can be used to collect phenology data such as flower timing. Photo: C. Schnepf.

Trying to understand how climate is changing, and how these changes affect the crop yields, forest growth, water from melting snowpacks, and all the other parts of our natural world, is very challenging. Increasingly, some of the primary tools for understanding these phenomena are models.

One of the biggest misconceptions about models is the idea they are not based in the real world – that they are just theoretical constructs, untethered to actual measurements. There are models like that – even philosophers are playing with models these days. But most of the models used in the natural sciences depend on empirical data – measurements of things like temperature, precipitation, crop yields, tree mortality, and many other attributes. Continue reading

Check it out: The State of the Science on Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest

By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) was just released on November 23, 2018. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) provide a report to Congress and the President just about every four years. This report focuses on the human welfare, societal and environmental impacts associated with climate change and variability across 10 regions in the U.S., and across 18 topics of national significance. Many collaborators across the Northwest participated in writing for the Northwest chapter. In this chapter, we outline five Key Messages that illustrate how climate change will impact different aspects of life in the Northwest (Figure 1):   Continue reading

Flexibility is Key to Northwest Cattle Production’s Future Success

By Laurie Houston

The impact of climate change on cattle producers in the Northwest is not expected to be as extreme as other regions of the United States.  According to a recent study led by Shannon Neibergs and published in Climatic Change, Northwest producers have a comparative advantage because droughts will be less severe in the Northwest and they have access to feed via extensive irrigation systems than can mitigate the effects of drought. That’s compared to the rest of the United States, though. But what impacts can livestock producers expect here? Can they continue business as usual? Probably not, but there are clear options moving forward, conclude Neibergs and colleagues. Continue reading

Northwest Rangelands – Where Do our Climate Vulnerabilities Lie?

By Georgine G. Yorgey

What will climate change look like on Pacific Northwest rangelands, which cover a huge area of our region? It will undoubtedly have complex impacts on the physical environment, environmental stressors, socio-economic factors, and the animals, plants, and other rangeland organisms. Recently, I took a look at the literature to see what the state of the science is relating to rangelands’ vulnerability to climate change. While there are a number of relevant studies that I mention below, I focus in this article on one of the few quantitative analyses, led by Matt Reeves, that updates Reeves’ previous work that was also discussed on agclimate.net.

Native sagebrush steppe with windmills in the background, cattle in the mid-ground, and water tubs in the foreground

Supplemental water helps encourage more distributed grazing across rangelands near Ellensburg, WA. Photo: CAHNRS Communications

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Check it out: Looking into New Technologies, Governance and Market Ideas to Improve our Use of Water

By Sonia A. Hall

Water is a precious resource in the Columbia River Basin, and climate change could lead to changes in factors that affect how to most efficiently allocate water to the many uses and values in the region, a challenge even now. This future is not bleak, however. A research team led by Jon Yoder at Washington State University has been funded to develop new technologies to help decision-makers improve how they use water to meet the diverse needs of farms, people, fish and the rivers themselves. Check out this article on their research plans into smart market technology, seasonal forecasting, and automated monitoring of agricultural (and other) water use.

Apricot orchard in bloom, with storm clouds overhead.

Seasonal forecasting of water availability and crop productivity can inform the decisions of potential water market participants. Photo: Flickr user Pictoscribe under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Check it out: Drought Worsens in the Northwest

By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

Conifer forests with trees surrounded by smoke.

Wildfires continue to burn across the region. Photo: Hallie Decime under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The National Integrated Drought Information Systems, via Drought.gov, working with a team of Northwest stakeholders, have just put together and released a new Drought Status Update that highlights current drought conditions that are affecting the Northwest. Continue reading