Nicole Montesano - Climate change affects Oregon
Loss of snowpack, altered growing season, rising sea levels, more extreme weather, extended droughts are expected
By NICOLE MONTESANO
Of the News-Register
The worst drought in more than half a century, continuing in many parts of the country, is expected to raise national average food prices 4 percent this fall. Ironically, it has largely been pushed off the front pages by yet another manifestation of the climate change phenomenon, Hurricane Sandy.
As the planet continues its inexorable warming — September ended 16 consecutive months of above-average temperatures in the lower 48, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the words “climate change” are heard more often. Recently, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited it as a key reason he endorsed President Obama for re-election.
“Our climate is changing,” Bloomberg wrote. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
In Oregon, climate change is having an impact and can be expected to have more, according to climatologist Kathy Dello, associate director of the Oregon Climate Change Institute. She said increasing temperatures have affected plant distribution and snowpack levels, and impacts are clearly on the increase.
Sea levels already have risen. On the Oregon coast, wave heights increased, causing erosion that threatens buildings.
Plant distribution, Dello said, may dramatically impact agriculture. For example, pinot noir grapes that do well in the Willamette Valley’s narrow temperature range may not thrive here in the future.
“As the climate warms,” Dello said, “we may need to think about ... planting other crops.”
Climate models, she said, predict warmer, drier summers and wetter winters. But with farming, recreational sports and domestic water supplies all dependent on snow falling at mid-level elevations, even a small increase in temperature can have big effects.
“A lot of the snow now falls very close to 32 degrees,” Dello noted. Warm it just a little, and experts predict the snowpack that traditionally supplies summer water will diminish substantially.
“We’ve used the snowpack as a natural reservoir throughout history, and have come to rely on that snow melting down in the summer when we don’t have rain,” Dello said.
A focus group at Oregon State University is examining the likely results of a much smaller snowpack, anticipating a future of water scarcity, she said. “When we talk about climate impacts of the future, water quickly rises to the top of many lists.”
In 2010, OSU put out a press release noting, “A major increase in maximum ocean wave heights off the Pacific Northwest in recent decades has forced scientists to re-evaluate how high a ‘100-year event’ might be, and the new findings raise special concerns for flooding, coastal erosion and structural damage.”
In the release, researchers said:
“The highest waves may be as much as 46 feet, up from estimates of only 33 feet that were made as recently as 1996, a 40 percent increase. December and January are the months such waves are most likely to occur, although summer waves are also significantly higher.
“In a study just published online in the journal Coastal Engineering, scientists from Oregon … report that the cause of these dramatically higher waves is not completely certain, but ‘likely due to Earth’s changing climate.’”
It also warned, “Hundred-year event wave heights could actually exceed 55 feet.”
In June, the National Research Council announced that it believes sea levels along the West Coast will rise 19 inches over the next 40 years.
Globally, sea levels rose about seven inches during the 20th century. And that increase is actually accelerating, according to the National Research Council. Melting glaciers increase the amount of sea water in liquid form, and ocean water expands as it warms, the council noted.
At the end of September, about 52 percent of the United States was in moderate to extreme drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“On a broad scale, the 1980s and 1990s were characterized by unusual wetness with short periods of extensive droughts, the 1930s and 1950s were characterized by prolonged periods of extensive droughts with little wetness, and the first decade of the 2000s saw extensive drought and extensive wetness,” the NOAA State of the Climate Drought report noted. Examples are the East Coast flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and the central Willamette Valley flooding last January.
A warming climate is associated with more extreme weather, and that’s what we are experiencing.
Guest writer Nicole Montesano, a reporter at the News-Register since 1994, can be reached at 503-687-1231 or
Climate change: What we can do
According to climate scientists, the United States must make some drastic changes to reduce emissions to slow or stop a rapid warming of the Earth’s atmosphere that could, unchecked, prove catastrophic.
Expensive changes — like adding more insulation to the attic — are important aspects in cutting emissions. They can make a big difference, long-term, by decreasing heat loss.
But a lot of small behavioral changes also can make a remarkably big difference. Many of them save money, even after purchasing items like low-flow showerheads and drying racks.
Some emissions-reducing actions are listed below.
- Buy less. Not purchasing items means no packaging, no manufacturing, no shipping, and, as an added bonus, less clutter at home.
- Stop using the clothes dryer. According to the Clean Air Trust, clothes dryers use more energy than any home appliance except refrigerators. Drying racks can be set up in the living room or a corner of a bedroom, or clotheslines may be strung in the garage. On dry days, hang items outdoors. Combining a couple of drying racks inside and a line in the garage can make a big difference. Use clotheslines for larger items, such as sheets, that are harder to fit on a drying rack. Clothing may be put on hangers and hung from a line or one side of a rack to create more drying space, as long as they are far enough apart to allow for air circulation.
- Combine errands, use public transportation or bicycles, and carpool whenever possible, thereby putting fewer cars on the road.
- Use less hot water. Install a low-flow shower head, take shorter showers, wash laundry in cold or warm water, reduce the temperature on the hot water heater by 10 or 20 degrees, insulate the water heater. When purchasing a new water heater, consider going tankless. According to the National Park Service's page on reducing greenhouse gas emissions at home, tankless water heaters cost about $800 more than conventional ones but reduce electricity bills by about $20 a month. Install a solar water heater if you can afford it.
- If possible, turn off items with lights or display clocks that use electricity continuously, or plug them into a power strip that can be turned off. Turn electronics off, rather than leaving them in stand-by mode or running when not in use. According to the Clean Air Trust, “Lights and appliances consume about 7,800 kilowatt-hours of electricity in the average western home and account for about 22 percent of household emissions, excluding automobile emissions.”
- Turn the heat down in winter and the air conditioner up in summer, by a few degrees. Wear more layers of clothing, for warmth. To keep cool in summer, put feet in a shallow pan of cold water or use a handkerchief or towel wrung out in cold water, wrapped around the back of the neck. Keep a pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator for cold drinks that don't require running the faucet.