Sonia A. Hall

Hot, hotter, hottest (so far) – Should I care?

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | February 9, 2017

I must confess that sometimes I like geeking out on data—raw climate data, for example. But most of the time I don’t have enough background knowledge about the complex and detailed data I’m looking at to interpret what it shows me about the big picture. So I really appreciate it when the experts take the time to present and discuss their data in a way that helps me understand the underlying patterns. If you are like me in that way, you might enjoy a recent (January 2017) Beyond the Data blog article by NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden, discussing how unusual the 2014-2016 global record-temperature “three-peat” is, relative to the temperature record over the last 100+ years.

Granted, you can argue that Blunden chose this “three-peat” to make a particular point. Yes, choosing a particular way to slice the data can be arbitrary, unless you have the statistical expertise to pull out from the data themselves the most relevant slicing (which I don’t). Nonetheless, Blunden’s article provides some interesting food for thought about long-term trends, and a variety of ways to look at the data to see if we should care about a particular pattern, in this case the 2014-2016 “three-peat.” Read more »

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Keep an eye on those pests! Vigilance and adaptability to climate change

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | September 12, 2016

I’m a “lumper” rather than a “splitter.” Give me lots of details on different crops, yields, pests, or weeds, and I’ll try to pull out some overarching idea to remember (I’m likely to forget the details). Luckily there are people who thrive on the details, as was made clear to me in a webinar given by Dr. Sanford Eigenbrode earlier this year, discussing climate change and insects in wheat systems.

Wheat infected with Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). Photo: Dr. Juliet Marshall, University of Idaho.

Wheat infected with Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). Photo: Dr. Juliet Marshall, University of Idaho.

Because I am a “lumper”, I’ll start with the overarching point I took away from the webinar: we (that is, entomologists like Dr. Eigenbrode, not me personally) know enough about the insect pests affecting wheat systems in the Pacific Northwest to know that different insects, the viruses they spread, and the parasitoids and predators that control them will respond differently to a changing climate. So while crop models suggest that wheat yields in our high latitudes will fare reasonably well as carbon dioxide concentrations increase and the climate warms, there is still a huge question mark related to whether insects and other pests will allow such yields to happen. Vigilance, and knowing what insects to pay particular attention to, can therefore make a big difference to wheat growers’ collective ability to respond and adapt to changes. Read more »

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How useful are models anyway? An example, now open for public comment

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | July 14, 2016
Cover of the draft 2016 Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast Legislative Report, currently available for public comment.  Click image for link.

Cover of the draft 2016 Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast Legislative Report, currently available for public comment. Click image for link.

Water, water everywhere… but will it continue to be there in the future? Will it be available when we need it? Or do we need to invest in projects or policies now, because the water in the future will not be the same as in the past? These are the issues that the collaborative research team working on the 2016 Columbia River Long-Term Supply and Demand Forecast are using models to address, at the direction of the Office of the Columbia River (OCR, part of the Washington Department of Ecology) and the Washington State Legislature.

Preliminary model results were presented at three public workshops in Richland, Wenatchee and Spokane in late June, and the draft report is available for public comment on OCR’s website until July 20, 2016. Here’s the summary of changes in water supply projected by this research:

  • Average annual supply of water for all uses across the Columbia River Basin down to Bonneville Dam is expected to increase around 12% by 2035.
  • That water would be available earlier in the spring than it has been in the past: water supply between November and May is projected to increase by almost 30%, while water supply between June and October is projected to decrease almost 11%.

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Perspectives on Agriculture in a Changing Climate – It’s complicated!

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | May 10, 2016
Pacific Northwest agricultural industries where urgency meets win-win solutions. Credits: Shellfish – Flickr user NH567 under CC BY-NC 2.0; Irrigation – Henry Alva under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Vineyard – Flickr user RVWithTito.com under CC BY 2.0.

Pacific Northwest agricultural industries where urgency meets win-win solutions. Credits: Shellfish – Flickr user NH567 under CC BY-NC 2.0; Irrigation – Henry Alva under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Vineyard – Flickr user RVWithTito.com under CC BY 2.0.

“Agriculture” in the Pacific Northwest encompasses a lot—dryland and irrigated systems, beef and dairy production, grains and other field crops, vegetables, fruit trees, pastures, other perennial crops, commodity and specialty markets, from local to global—so there’s no getting away from the fact that talking about climate change and agriculture gets complicated, really fast. This point came across to me very strongly at the Agriculture in a Changing Climate workshop in Kennewick in March, when invited industry representatives shared their perspectives on climate change and agriculture during a panel discussion. Read more »

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Early 2015 drought loss numbers are coming in – Where is my crystal ball?

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | February 25, 2016

Originally published on Agriculture Climate Network February 22, 2016

Drought conditions across the western U.S. in August 2015. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor Map Archive http://bit.ly/1mW1DxL

Drought conditions across the western U.S. in August 2015. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor Map Archive http://bit.ly/1mW1DxL

There is little doubt that last year’s high temperatures and water scarcity—because of the warm, low-snowpack winter—had a significant economic impact on Pacific Northwest agriculture. A Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA) preliminary report places losses at approximately $325 million statewide, based on an initial estimate. These numbers will change as better data roll in. Meanwhile, a study by University of California–Davis researcher Richard Howitt and colleagues places that state’s crop revenue losses due to drought at $900 million. While I have not found similar reports for Oregon and Idaho, these two states also felt the drought, particularly in Oregon.In an earlier post I described how knowing that a particular year’s weather is representative of future climate projections can give us a good sense of what may be ahead. To the extent that this is true, then a better understanding of the impacts last year’s conditions had on agriculture can give us a sense of what we can expect as the climate warms. And the diversity of growers’ responses and how effective they were can give us ideas about what strategies to try as the climate changes. Read more »

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Being prepared: what we got can help us understand what to expect

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | October 12, 2015

As I shared in my last post, “Climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get.” But if the climate is changing, and part of what experts predict is that we’ll see more extreme weather and weather-related events—think floods, droughts, big storms—what should we expect?

Chelan, WA vineyard. Photo: A. Simonds

Wine grapes; a crop of growing importance in eastern Washington that tolerates drought better than other important crops. Photo: A. Simonds

More than one research group is working hard to develop models that can help answer this and other questions. They are also working to collect real-world data against which to compare the model projections, to improve our confidence in what these models tell us. It is this combination of data and good models—models that do a good job at representing what actually happens in the real world—that would allow us to say to what extent a particular event is due to a changing climate, and how much is just the natural, year-to-year variability that we are all used to experiencing. Read more »

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Being prepared: what you get is not necessarily what you expect

Posted by Sonia A. Hall | October 8, 2015
The Grizzly Bear Complex Fires located southeast of Dayton, WA began on Aug. 13, 2015.   Photo: USFS.

The Grizzly Bear Complex Fires located southeast of Dayton, WA began on Aug. 13, 2015. Photo: USFS.

A concerned citizen wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper recently, complaining about how weather, climate, and climate change had been used almost interchangeably. Reading that letter got me thinking about the active scientific discussion on whether extreme weather or weather-driven events like floods and wildfires—the latter very much on our radar in eastern Washington this year—are due to climate change. And more importantly, it got me thinking about how to best take advantage of what we know, even when there are some complex issues we still don’t fully understand. Here I tackle the difference between weather and climate, and in a future post I will discuss what we know—and don’t—about climate change impacts and how what we do know can be useful. Read more »

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Contact Sonia A. Hall

Email: sonia.hall@wsu.edu