PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon continues to face climate change-related risks, but has also seen expanding opportunities for adaptation and mitigation, according to the Sixth Oregon Climate Assessment published this week.
The assessment is a biennial publication written by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, which is housed at Oregon State University.
The publication is broad and covers not only current climate models, temperature, drought and wildfire, but also coastal hazards, economics, public health and social systems that could all be impacted by the changing climate.
This is the first assessment published since the 2021 heat dome event that broke temperature records and resulted in dozens of heat-related deaths in the Pacific Northwest. The report predicts that the number and intensity of heat waves are likely to increase in the future.
“In general, the qualitative climate projections haven’t changed appreciably,” said OCCRI Director Erica Fleishman. “It is becoming hotter and an increasing proportion of precipitation is falling as rain rather than snow, which affects the availability of water.”
Researchers note that Oregon saw more days per year with temperatures topping 90 degrees and more nights per year warmer than 65 degrees between 2011 and 2020 than between 1951 and 2010.
The report also points out that over the past 20 years, the incidence, extent and severity of droughts has grown. Increasingly dry weather has led to increases in the average total annual area burned by wildfires.
Scientists say that rapid warming in the Arctic, what’s known as Arctic amplification, may be contributing to summer heat waves and hot, dry autumn weather in Oregon.
Additionally, the report states that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current levels, the annual temperature in Oregon is projected to increase by 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2050s and 8.2 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2080s.
Precipitation is projected to increase during the winter and decrease during the summer and the number of winter precipitation events is projected to increase.
Researchers also predict extreme winter wind speeds may increase, especially in Western Oregon. The frequency of strong easterly winds during summer and autumn, they say, is expected to decrease slightly.
Experts warn that climate change effects on Oregon could impact the state’s economics, particularly farming and timber economies as the availability of water and irrigation change over the years. Scientists say financial incentives could encourage forest landowners to sequester carbon in a cost-effective manner and recommend investing in wave and offshore wind energy.
The assessment highlights that climate change disproportionately stresses Tribal communities, but said adapting to the changes early can help make Tribes more resilient.
While the report does underline the dangers climate change poses to Oregon’s environment, economy and lifestyle, it also emphasizes that there are opportunities to help chart a different course.
The assessment included optimistic findings such as a survey taken after the 2020 wildfires that showed 90 percent of those surveyed had taken at least one personal action to prepare for future disasters. These actions include things like putting together an evacuation kit or signing up for emergency alerts.
The people who participated in the survey showed strong support for policies to advance climate change adaptation and mitigation.
“Regardless of their political views or personal identity, Oregonians care about each other and their environment,” Fleishman said. “Our state’s residents are taking diverse actions to preserve livelihoods and well-being as climate changes.”
The full assessment is available to read on the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute’s website.
The assessment includes more details about predicted changes and recommended actions Oregonians can take to adapt to or mitigate climate change.