Category Archives: Variability, Weather, & Extreme Events

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.

Continue reading

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

Hot, Dry Summers Take a Toll on Trees in Western Washington

By Patrick Shults, Washington State University Extension

Tops of two conifer trees, one showing dead branches at the very top, with green canopy below

Western redcedar with a dead top as a result of drought stress. Photo: Patrick Shults, WSU Extension.

The coastal Pacific Northwest is home to some of the best tree-growing conditions in the world.  Fertile soils, plenty of rain, mild temperatures, and short dry seasons allow trees to pack on solid growth each year.  These conditions also give them a significant advantage in protecting themselves from insects and disease with tactics like pitching sap to flush out bark beetles, isolating roots infected with fungus, and compartmentalizing wounds.  However, these defenses are only possible when trees can avoid environmental stressors and, given a changing climate, certain stressors are expected to become more frequent.

Trees in this area have evolved to handle an annual dry season and, generally, mild temperatures during that time ensure they don’t suffer too much stress.  However, in the last decade the coastal Pacific Northwest has experienced unusually stressful conditions.  The summers of 2015, 2017, and 2018, for instance, were very dry and also particularly hot, which worsens moisture stress in trees.  While it is difficult to attribute any given year to climate change, climate modeling suggests hotter summers like these may be a new normal, and a drive down I-5 in western Washington will show many trees have already paid a price. Continue reading

Acting to Prepare for Severe Droughts in the Yakima River Basin

By Mengqi Zhao, recent PhD graduate, Washington State University

Collage of three photos, with plants in greenhouse, a dry pond with no vegetation, and a sprinkler over a crop, close up

Figure 1. Under low water availability conditions, the reliability of irrigation systems can be enhanced through strategies that improve water supply when it is needed or reduce water demand. Examples include greenhouses (left), aquifer recharge (recharge pond, top right), and irrigation technology (bottom right). Photos: Mengqi Zhao (greenhouse and pond) and Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (sprinkler).

For more than fifty years, individuals and organizations in the Yakima River Basin (YRB) have been working toward improving water availability, especially for agriculture. The mismatch between rainfall (and snowmelt) timing and the irrigation season has focused these efforts on strategies for increasing water storage. However, farmers frequently encounter insufficient irrigation water supply and large demands from agricultural activities, resulting in prorationing across irrigation districts during every severe drought of record since 1970s. In the Pacific Northwest, projected water scarcity situations under future climate change scenarios could increase to 68% of years in the 2080s if no actions are taken, compared to only 14% of years on average historically (Vano et al., 2010).

Facing such frequent low water availability conditions, what methods can improve the reliability of irrigation systems? How might people’s decisions on adopting those methods affect system vulnerability to droughts? The fundamental solutions to these questions rely on strategies that either improve water supply when it is needed or reduce water demand. Continue reading

The Need for Flexibility when Managing Grazing

Matthew C. Reeves, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station

Grassy, green hillslope with some shrubs scattered around

Forage variability is expected to increase even further in the future, enhancing the need for flexibility in managing grazing on rangelands in the Pacific Northwest. Photo: Darrell Kilgore.

The amount of annual net primary production on rangelands forms the forage base upon which livelihoods and billions of dollars of commerce depend. Land managers and livestock producers in the Pacific Northwest deal with high year-to-year variations in net primary production, which often varies 40% between years due to changes in the amount of precipitation from one year to the next. And in the future, it is widely expected that climate change will lead to further increases in year-to-year variability, creating both challenges and opportunities for ranchers in the region. We therefore need to understand the longer-term changes in how net primary production and resulting forage production will vary, so we can explore new options that provide increased flexibility to ranchers and managers. Continue reading