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When today’s toddlers are approaching retirement age, San Antonio will have a climate akin to that of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a city 145 miles to the south, according to a climate comparison study published this week.
Their results indicate that San Antonio will become an overall hotter and drier place, experiencing more 100-plus-degree summer days, warmer winters, and lower annual rainfall than the city sees today.
Researchers at the University of Maryland and North Carolina State University used 27 different climate models developed by research groups all over the world to compare the climates of 450 North American cities in 2080 to their closest counterparts in today’s climate.
Under a current climate change trajectory, the models predict that by 2080, much of the East Coast will be more like the South. Portland, Oregon, will have a climate similar to California’s Central Valley. Denver will have conditions akin to the Texas Panhandle.
For San Antonio, the best comparison is Nuevo Laredo, which has a much hotter and drier climate than San Antonio.
“The big motivation was to communicate these changes,” University of Maryland associate professor Matt Fitzpatrick said in a phone interview this week. “This might resonate with people as a way to translate these global forecasts that we hear a lot about in the news.”
Fitzpatrick said that climate reports and news coverage about them often focused on “descriptive statistics” that often reflect mean temperature changes that most people cannot contextualize.
As part of their paper, Fitzpatrick and his co-author created an interactive tool that allows users to examine southward shifts in climate city-by-city.
Typical summers in Nuevo Laredo are on average 6.1 degrees Fahrenheit hotter and 34 percent drier than in San Antonio, their report states. Winters there average 6.3 degrees warmer and are 54.8 percent drier than in San Antonio.
According to climate data, Laredo, the Texas city located directly across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo, receives an average of 20.15 inches of rain per year, compared to San Antonio’s nearly 33 inches.
All of South Texas is known for its broiling-hot summers, but the number of triple-digit days is higher along the Mexican border than in San Antonio. Average high temperatures for July and August in Laredo are 99 and 100 degrees, respectively, compared to 95 degrees in San Antonio for both months.
Fitzpatrick said their work did not focus on the potential for changes in extreme weather, such as hurricanes. Instead, it relied on 12 “climate variables,” including the mean, minimum, and maximum temperature and total precipitation for each season.
“Just like we can measure the geographic distance between two cities in Texas, we just measured the distance between cities, but we’re doing that in a climate space instead of a geographic space,” he said.
These shifts in climate are already spurring changes in migration patterns of plants and animals across North America. As one of many examples, radar studies have shown that Mexican free-tailed bats at Bracken Cave north of San Antonio are arriving earlier than before.
Fitzpatrick, who typically studies “biogeography,” or “where organisms live and why,” said that because humans have broken up natural migration corridors with cities, roads, and other breaks in the natural landscape, many creatures will have difficulty adapting.
“They can move somewhere they prefer, they can stay and tolerate or adapt, or they can go extinct,” he said. “Given the speed and magnitude of the changes we’re expecting and the fact that we’ve fragmented the landscape, it’s going to be a big problem for a lot of organisms.”
But he noted that while some warming due to human activity is inevitable at this point, it’s not too late to change course. For many of the cities he examined, a lower-emissions pathway would lead to much smaller shifts in climate.
“That is a real solution that can help mitigate many of these dramatic impacts,” he said.
The City of San Antonio and CPS Energy are grappling with these issues right now. A draft climate plan released last month calls for San Antonio to be carbon-neutral by 2050. That would mean no more coal and natural gas in CPS Energy’s portfolio, as well as a complete shift away from all gasoline and diesel vehicles on San Antonio roads, among other measures.
“While climate change is a global issue, the causes and effects are experienced at the local level,” City Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick said in an email. “The strategies outlined in this plan will have multiple benefits to our community’s quality of life, economic competitiveness, and resilience.”
On Monday, CPS Energy will hold a public input session on the climate plan from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Villita Assembly Building at 401 Villita St. Participants must sign up to speak between 5 and 6 p.m.
The City will also hold a public meeting about the plan on Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the San Antonio Public Library at 600 Soledad St.