Texas’ Future Depends on Extreme Weather Preparedness, New Studies Show

Research conducted by Texas A&M and Texas 2036 demonstrate Texas must prepare for more extreme weather

Texas’ weather is growing more extreme, according to a new study released Thursday by the Texas State Climatologist, Texas A&M University, and Texas 2036 — and recent polling shows that Texans are already feeling the damaging effects.

Taken together, the science and surveys show that Texas state policymakers need to incorporate climate-related considerations into plans for building and strengthening infrastructure around water and flood control, energy, transportation, and even public education.

John Nielsen-Gammon — a Regents Professor at Texas A&M who was named State Climatologist by then-Gov. George W. Bush in 2000 — led the team of A&M researchers, who analyzed decades of Texas weather records to project climate trends out to 2036, the year of Texas’ bicentennial.

The study, released today, confirms findings that Texas will experience twice as many 100-degree days, 30-50 percent more urban flooding, and more intense droughts 15 years from now if present climate trends continue. Nielsen-Gammon stressed that these conclusions are largely consistent with climate modeling data.

“Texas’ weather is changing, and it’s doing so in ways that will make it harder to live here and more expensive to recover from increasingly disruptive events. That means preparation and resilience are more important than ever,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Texas’ long-term prosperity will depend on how well we prepare for these increasingly damaging natural disasters.”

The report was funded by Texas 2036, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization focused on ensuring Texas remains the best place to live and work. The data confirm perceptions of Texans whom the organization recently surveyed for its Texas Voter Poll released last month.

The poll showed that 72% of Texas voters recognize Texas’ climate has changed over the past 10 years, with 32% of respondents saying those changes have been dramatic. Further, 59% of voters said the state is not well-prepared for extreme weather events, such as the deadly mid-February winter weather that knocked out power and water service to more than half the state.

“State leaders need to take a hard look at what is required — and what it will cost — to prepare Texas for the extreme and disruptive weather events we know are coming,” said Margaret Spellings, president and CEO of Texas 2036. “Dr. Nielsen-Gammon and his team have given Texas a data-driven look at the state’s present and future. Most voters already see the devastating effects of extreme weather on Texas’ people, communities, and economy. Texas needs to plan and prepare for what’s next.”

The Texas A&M report shows that Texas’ climate has already changed in ways that leave the state more vulnerable to extreme weather. The study analyzed a variety of past and future meteorological trends, including average temperatures, extreme temperatures, precipitation, extreme rainfall, drought, river flooding, urban flooding, winter precipitation, severe thunderstorms, hurricanes and coastal erosion, and wildfires.

It found that if current trends continue as expected, disruptive weather events will make it harder to live in Texas than it is today:

  • The number of 100-degree days has more than doubled over the past 40 years — and could nearly double again, compared to the number of 100-degree days Texans have experienced between 2001-2020. There also will likely be a higher frequency of 100-degree days in urban areas by 2036, a phenomenon enhanced by Texas urban “heat islands.”
  • The average annual Texas surface temperature in 2036 is expected to be 3 degrees warmer than average temperatures in the last half of the 20th century (1950-1999).
  • Extreme rainfall has become more frequent and severe and is expected to worsen. As a result, there will be a significant increase in urban flooding — as much as 30-50% more than occurred between 1950-1999.
  • While the frequency of hurricanes is expected to stay the same or even decrease, their intensity is expected to increase significantly. And thanks to sea level rise, the risk of hurricane storm surge may double in some places by 2050 compared with risk levels around 1900.
  • Despite increased precipitation in certain areas, most factors point toward more severe droughts and increased risks of wildfires in the future.

Recently, state officials have begun incorporating climate data into long-term planning, such as in the State Water Plan and the energy emergency preparedness planning process established by Senate Bill 3, passed in the 2021 regular Texas Legislative Session. Further, Texas can begin to address key challenges and vulnerabilities that more extreme weather will create by leveraging available federal funds for projects and priorities such as:

  • Water projects to improve both the cleanliness of drinking water and access to water during droughts (supported by 88% of Texas voters surveyed in Texas 2036’s Voter Poll);
  • Upgrades to the state’s electrical grid and generation capacity, including weatherization, new energy technologies, and transmission improvements (83% in favor);
  • Broadband and emergency communications infrastructure, which would enhance communications and disaster response capabilities (81% in favor); and
  • Improved flood-prevention capabilities (79% in favor).

“Texas is the economic powerhouse it is today thanks to a combination of sheer grit and forward-thinking innovation,” said A.J. Rodriguez, Texas 2036 Executive Vice President. “With Texas ingenuity and determination, combined with solid data and available federal funds, our state’s leaders have the tools they need to not only overcome the challenges outlined in this report, but to build on the legacy we inherited by leaving our state, and our economy, stronger and more secure than they are today.”