Federal Coordinating Lead Author:
Bill Bartush, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Chapter Lead:
Kevin Kloesel, University of Oklahoma
Chapter Authors:
Jay Banner, University of Texas at Austin
David Brown, USDA-ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory
Jay Lemery, University of Colorado
Xiaomao Lin, Kansas State University
Cindy Loeffler, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Gary McManus, Oklahoma Climatological Survey
Esther Mullens, DOI South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center
John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas A&M University
Mark Shafer, NOAA-RISA Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program
Cecilia Sorensen, University of Colorado
Sid Sperry, Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives
Daniel Wildcat, Haskell Indian Nations University
Jadwiga Ziolkowska, University of Oklahoma
Review Editor:
Ellu Nasser, Adaptation International
Technical Contributor:
Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University
USGCRP Coordinators:
Susan Aragon-Long, Senior Scientist
Christopher W. Avery, Senior Manager

Southern Great Plains

The Southern Great Plains experiences weather that is dramatic and consequential; from hurricanes and flooding to heat waves and drought, its 34 million people, their infrastructure, and economies are often stressed, greatly impacting socioeconomic systems. The quality of life for the region’s residents is dependent upon resources and natural systems for the sustainable provision of our basic needs—food, energy, and water. Extreme weather and climate events have redistributed demands for consumption, production, and supply across the region. Adaptation strategies that integrate climate services and early warning systems are improving our abilities to develop sustainable infrastructure and increase agricultural production, yet include the flexibility needed to embrace any changing demand patterns.

Regional adaptation efforts that harden or relocate critical infrastructure will reduce the risk of climate change impacts. Redesigns of coastal infrastructure and the use of green/gray methodologies are improving future coastal resilience. Energy industry reinvention is ensuring operations and reliability during extreme climatic events. Increasingly robust considerations of economic resilience allow us to anticipate risk, evaluate how that risk can affect our needs, and build a responsive adaptive capacity.

With climate change, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and species within them, have winners and losers. Those that can adapt are “increasers,” while others cannot, resulting in impacts to traditional services and the livelihoods of the people who depend on those resources. The warming of coastal bay waters has been documented since at least the 1980s, and those increases in water temperature directly affect water quality, leading to hypoxia, harmful algal blooms, and fish kills—thus lowering the productivity and diversity of estuaries. Natural wetlands like the playa lakes in the High Plains, which have served for centuries as important habitat for migrating waterfowl, are virtually nonexistent during drought.

Direct human health threats follow a similar pattern of species within our natural ecosystems. Extreme weather results in both direct and indirect impacts to people; physical injury and population displacement are anticipated to result with climate change. Heat illness and diseases transmitted through food, water, and insects increase human risk as temperature rises. Acute awareness of these future impacts allows us to plan for the most vulnerable and adapt through response plans, health forecasting, and early warning strategies, including those that span transboundary contexts and systems.

The impacts of climate change in general become more acute when considering tribal and Indigenous communities. Resilience to climate change will be hindered by economic, political, and infrastructure limitations for these groups; at the same time, connectivity of the tribes and Indigenous communities offers opportunities for teaching adaptably through their cultural means of applying traditional knowledge and intertribal organization. These well-honed connections of adapting through the centuries may help all of us learn how to offset the impacts and potential challenges of climate change.


Projected Increase in Number of Days Above 100ºF

Under both lower- and higher-scenario climate change projections, the number of days exceeding 100°F is projected to increase markedly across the Southern Great Plains by the end of the century (2070–2099 as compared to 1976–2005). From Figure 23.4 (Sources: NOAA NCEI and CICS-NC).

The role of climate change in altering the frequency of the types of severe weather most typically associated with the Southern Great Plains, such as severe local storms, hailstorms, and tornadoes, remains difficult to quantify.1,2 Indirect approaches suggest a possible increase in the circumstances conducive to such severe weather,3 including an increase in the instances of larger hail sizes in the region by 2040,4 but changes are unlikely to be uniform across the region, and additional research is needed.

See Full Chapter & References