finding 23.2 : key-message-23-2

The built environment is vulnerable to increasing temperature, extreme precipitation, and continued sea level rise, particularly as infrastructure ages and populations shift to urban centers (likely, high confidence). Along the Texas Gulf Coast, relative sea level rise of twice the global average will put coastal infrastructure at risk (likely, medium confidence). Regional adaptation efforts that harden or relocate critical infrastructure will reduce the risk of climate change impacts.

This finding is from chapter 23 of Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.

Process for developing key messages:

The initial Southern Great Plains author team was selected such that expertise from each of the states’ officially recognized climate offices in the region (Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas) were included. The offices of the state climatologist in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are each members of the American Association of State Climatologists, which is the recognized professional scientific organization for climate expertise at the state level.

One representative from each of several regional hubs of national and regional climate expertise was included on the author team. These regional hubs include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Plains Climate Hub (El Reno, Oklahoma), the U.S. Department of the Interior’s South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center (Norman, Oklahoma), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (Norman, Oklahoma).

After assessing the areas of expertise of the six authors selected from the state and regional centers, a gap analysis was conducted to prioritize areas of expertise that were missing. Due to the importance of the sovereign tribal nations to the Southern Great Plains, an accomplished scholar with expertise in Indigenous knowledge on the environment and climate change was selected from the premier tribal university in the United States, Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. An individual from the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin was selected to bring expertise on the complex intersection of coupled atmosphere–land–ocean systems, climate, and humans (population and urbanization). Expertise in the electric utility industry was gained through the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives by an individual with a long history of working with rural and urban populations and with researchers and forecasters in weather and climate.

The author group decided to allow Southern Great Plains stakeholders to drive additional priorities. On March 2, 2017, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) Southern Great Plains chapter team held a Regional Engagement Workshop at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, with a satellite location in Austin, Texas, that allowed a number of stakeholders to participate virtually. The objective of the workshop was to gather input from a diverse array of stakeholders throughout the Southern Great Plains to help inform the writing and development of the report and to raise awareness of the process and timeline for NCA4. Stakeholders from meteorology, climatology, tribes, agriculture, electric utilities, water resources, Bureau of Land Management, ecosystems, landscape cooperatives, and transportation from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas were represented. The productive dialog at this workshop identified important gaps in environmental economics, ecosystems, and health. Scientists working at the cutting edge of research in these three areas were selected: an ecosystems expert from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, an environmental economist from the department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oklahoma, and health experts from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Aspen Global Change Institute.

This diverse collection of medical doctors, academics, researchers, scientists, and practitioners from both federal and state agencies gives the Southern Great Plains chapter a wealth of expertise across the many ways in which climate change will affect people in the region.

Description of evidence base:

The existing infrastructure and projected models for growth are well established and documented. Demographic and population projections are available from state demographers and are typically included in Long-Term Transportation Plans available from state departments of transportation. Additionally, the present-day infrastructure challenges have been examined in depth by the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE), which publishes an Infrastructure Report Card for the Nation and for each state ( For the Southern Great Plains states, one of the pressing concerns is meeting the funding challenges necessary to maintain critical infrastructure, as well as anticipating future revenue streams, which themselves depend on population and its distribution, and state and federal funding. The ASCE, as well as all state transportation plans in the Southern Great Plains, does not consider future climate projections, and the information contained generally does not explicitly mention climate-related stressors. However, the impacts of climate change have become an issue of concern for agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Highways Administration (FHWA), which have in recent years funded projects evaluating the potential impacts of climate change on infrastructure and transportation and possible adaptation strategies. Since 2010, the FHWA has sponsored a series of pilot studies in resilience for municipalities and states across the Nation.93ad29e2-8811-4b6e-854c-fa57408cb570 Two of these studies took place in Texas, in Dallas and Tarrant Counties and in the City of Austin. These reports provide some of the most comprehensive examples of integrating climate data into assessments of infrastructure vulnerability in the region to date. The potential impacts of temperature and precipitation extremes on transportation and infrastructure were based in part on known vulnerabilities as shown by these aforementioned reports and the larger repository of information and resources supplied by the FHWA.

Estimates of relative sea level rise (SLR) in Texas in the historical period are available from NCA4 Volume I: Climate Science Special Report,75cf1c0b-cc62-4ca4-96a7-082afdfe2ab1 Runkle et al. (2017),58dfbe91-53a4-4ddb-ad8d-d4e181086e72 Sweet et al. (2017).c66bf5a9-a6d7-4043-ad99-db0ae6ae562c Relative SLR along the Texas coastline is some of the highest in the Nation; coupled with its population and critical energy infrastructure, this region has some noteworthy vulnerabilities to SLR. Projections of SLR remain uncertain and depend to some extent on whether the current rates of relative SLR are maintained, in addition to the magnitude and rate of greenhouse gas emissions. Sweet et al. (2017)c66bf5a9-a6d7-4043-ad99-db0ae6ae562c probabilistically evaluate a number of SLR scenarios, typically noting that the Texas coast SLR is higher than the global mean. The values mentioned in the main text are global mean values obtained from USGCRP (2017)75cf1c0b-cc62-4ca4-96a7-082afdfe2ab1 and from the range quoted by Runkle et al. (2017).58dfbe91-53a4-4ddb-ad8d-d4e181086e72

New information and remaining uncertainties:

In the Southern Great Plains there remains uncertainty over the direction of change of average precipitation, although models generally project increases in very heavy precipitation.e8089a19-413e-4bc5-8c4a-7610399e268c The expectation of an increase in the frequency of events such as the 100-year storm is uncertain due to the spread of model projections of extreme precipitation and the need to use additional statistical modeling in order to obtain the return period estimates.

There are limited studies that attempt to directly link weather and climate extremes and their impacts to infrastructure. While it is appreciated that infrastructure exposed to adverse conditions will lead to deterioration, studies on specific cause–effect chain of events in these cases are limited (e.g., Winguth et al. 2015)3fed1df6-1ec6-4f8b-a3b7-6bb715cee3ee. The results are more evident in the case of catastrophic failures associated with floods, for example, but even in those cases, antecedent conditions related to the age, condition, and/or construction quality of infrastructure will affect its resilience (Ch. 12: Transportation;).

Assessment of confidence based on evidence:

There is very high confidence that extreme heat will increase in frequency and intensity. There is medium confidence in an increased frequency of flooding and high confidence in the increased frequency of drought. There is high confidence of sea level rise of at least 4 feet by 2100 along the Texas coastline if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. On the implications for infrastructure, there is high confidence that weather-related damage will increase due to inland weather-related hazards. Along the coastline, there is very high confidence that infrastructure will be impacted by sea level rise and storm surge.

This finding was derived from scenario rcp_4_5
This finding was derived from scenario rcp_8_5

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