At our current rate of climate change, many cities in western Oregon could come to feel a lot like the Central Valley of California over the next 60 years.
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A new analysis looking at climate projections for urban areas across the United States and Canada predict substantial changes in local temperatures and precipitation rates for Northwest cities.
“We were trying to communicate these forecasts of global climate for the future into something that’s less abstract, less distant and more local and more relevant to personal experiences,” said University of Maryland ecologist Matt Fitzpatrick, co-author of the study.
To do this they used the average of 27 different climate forecasts to figure out what current geographic location most resembles the future climate of a city.
And their findings are presented in an interactive map. Users enter one city to see where on the map the urban area is with climate conditions today that most closely represent the selected city's future climate conditions.
For Portland, Salem, Eugene and Grants Pass the future feels a lot like Sacramento. Longview will feel like Portland, Medford like Red Bluff, California, and Bend a lot like Reno. All of these places will be warmer and drier at certain times of the year if carbon and other greenhouse-gas emissions aren't curbed significantly. The current trajectory has carbon emissions continuing to rise throughout the century.
In addition, the researchers ran their models for a reduced emissions scheme – one that peaks midway through the century. This was the goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which the United States pulled out of early in the Trump administration.
The outcomes for Pacific Northwest cities under this lower-emissions scenario is much better. In fact, Oregon is somewhat of an outlier nationally because the change in climate – in particular temperature changes – is forecast to be relatively limited.
Oregonians would live in cities with climates that resemble what their grandparents lived through. It would be a little drier, but Oregon would still feel like Oregon.
Michele Crim, Portland’s Chief Sustainability Officer, says the tool created by the University of Maryland researchers can be helpful.
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“It make it a little more tangible in terms of broad awareness that what Portland feels like in the future is going to be different,” she said.
But she says as far planning for Portland’s future and its ability to handle the changes to come, the city is less concerned about the new averages in temperature and precipitation and more concerned about the extremes.
“That’s where those problematic impacts are going to be most significant,” Crim said. “So those extremes as it relates to wildfire, or to flooding or to heat waves.”
Study author Fitzpatrick says the mapping tool they created does show one thing pretty plainly – that there is a significant difference between the carbon emissions status quo and the lower emissions targets sputtering at a national and international level.
“I think the difference is pretty clear when we look at different cities. Cutting emissions will have an effect,” he said.