Since the late 1800s, Earth’s climate has changed more rapidly than any other period in humanity’s history1,2. Even more concerning is that this rate is continuing to accelerate: the average global temperature increased more in the previous three decades than in the last century3,4. Texas is already feeling the effects of climate change and exceeded 0.8 °C (1.5 °F) of warming compared to preindustrial levels in 20165,6. This trend will likely continue to accelerate in the coming 15 years.
Texas State Climatologist John Neilson-Gammon for Texas 2036 analyzed past climate trends to gauge extreme weather risks to Texas in the immediate future. Historical records confirm that the state is warming at rates consistent with global trends, with models projecting conditions in 2036 being around 1.7 °C (3 °F) warmer than the 1950s average, which is 1 °C (1.8 °F) warmer than the 1990s7. Long-term projections show a 2 °C to 2.8 °C (3.6 °F to 5.1 °F) increase by 2050 and a 2.4 °C to 4.8 °C (4.4 °F to 8.4 °F) rise by the end of the century, depending on the specific greenhouse gas emissions scenario used1. Projections with greater greenhouse gas emissions correspond directly to more rapid and greater temperatures4,5. Even the lower end of these emissions scenarios is undesirable, as the numbers only represent average temperatures and have other compounding drawbacks8.
As overall conditions in Texas get hotter, the number of extreme heat days with surface temperatures at—or above—38 °C (100 °F) will likely continue to go up5. Extreme heat days will likely double by 2036 compared to the early 2000s, with an extra 30 to 60 days per year by 21006,7. These effects will likely be magnified in urban areas thanks to enhanced heating from impervious surfaces like concrete9,10.
The summer drought of 2011 is currently the hottest and driest summer on record11, but more periods of prolonged and intense heat will probably make similar events much more common6,7. It is highly likely that a drought worse than in 2011 will happen by 20367. The number of extreme winter cold days is projected to continue declining as winters in Texas are overall becoming warmer and shorter1,7. Events like Winter Storm Uri in 2021 were devastating for over 170 million Texans and were a direct consequence of weakened polar jet streams from a warmer Arctic12. These winter events are typically damaging due to their rarity and subsequently underprepared infrastructure11,13. Similar cold snaps will probably become more common in the southern United States, but the air they bring from northern latitudes will likely be warmer as the Arctic is heating at roughly three times the global average rate1,4,7,14.
Texas has noticeably warmed in recent years and is expected to continue to do so. These changes will interact with other effects of climate change and influence drought, water, ecosystems, and human health throughout the state. The graphics and resources below explore past and future temperature changes in Texas.
- Kloesel, K., B. Bartush, J. Banner, D. Brown, J. Lemery, X. Lin, C. Loeffler, G. McManus, and others 2018. Chapter 23: Southern great plains. Impacts, risks, and adaptation in the United States: The fourth national climate assessment, volume II. U.S. Global Change Research Program.
- Lindsey, R., and L. Dahlman. 2021. Climate Change: Global Temperature. climate.gov. August 12.
- Blunden, J., and D. Arndt. 2020. State of the Climate in 2019. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 101: S1–S429. doi: https://doi.org/10.1175/2020BAMSStateoftheClimate.1.
- IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N.Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R.Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)].Cambridge University Press. In Press.
- Wuebbles, D. J., D. W. Fahey, and K. A. Hibbard. 2017. Climate science special report: fourth national climate assessment, volume I.
- Runkle, J., K. E. Kunkel, J. Nielson-Gammon, R. Frankson, S. M. Champion, B. C. Stewart, L. Romolo, and W. Sweet. 2022. Texas State Climate Summary 2022. Vol. 5. Silver Spring, MD.
- Nielsen-Gammon, J., S. Holman, A. Buley, S. Jorgensen, J. Escobedo, C. Ott, J. Dedrick, and A. Van Fleet. 2021. Assessment of Historic and Future Trends of Extreme Weather in Texas, 1900-2036. OSC-202101. Texas A&M University.
- IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R.Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R.Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T.Waterfield (eds.)]. World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, 32 pp.
- Winguth, A., and B. Kelp. 2013. The urban heat island of the north-central Texas region and its relation to the 2011 severe Texas drought. Journal of applied meteorology and climatology 52. American Meteorological Society: 2418–2433.
- Sailor, D. J. 2014. Risks of summertime extreme thermal conditions in buildings as a result of climate change and exacerbation of urban heat islands. Building and Environment 78. Elsevier: 81–88.
- Nielsen-Gammon, J. W. 2012. The 2011 Texas drought. Texas Water Journal 3: 59–95.
- Doss-Gollin, J., D. J. Farnham, U. Lall, and V. Modi. 2021. How unprecedented was the February 2021 Texas cold snap? Environmental Research Letters 16. IOP Publishing: 064056.
- Busby, J. W., K. Baker, M. D. Bazilian, A. Q. Gilbert, E. Grubert, V. Rai, J. D. Rhodes, S.Shidore, and others 2021. Cascading risks: Understanding the 2021 winter blackout in Texas. Energy Research & Social Science 77. Elsevier: 102106.
- Francis, J. A., and S. J. Vavrus. 2012. Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophysical research letters 39. Wiley Online Library.