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More Than 50 Texas Climate Scientists Urge State Leaders To Prepare For More Severe Weather Events

The pads of a nopal cactus plant lie wilted outside in Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT News
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Nopal cactus damaged in southwest Austin, TX on Feb. 24, 2021. Prickly pear cactus around Central Texas were damaged from a strong winter storm and freeze.

Texas climate scientists are urging state leaders to prepare accordingly for the increasing risk of weather-related disasters. In an open letter published to the Dallas Morning News, the more than 50 signatories warned that extreme events like last month’s blackout-causing winter storm may soon be the rule, not the exception, and that now is time to prepare for the worst.

University of Texas professor Ginny Catania is leading the group, and coauthored the letter with Texas Tech University professor Katharine Hayhoe.

“I was in the dark, freezing cold for four days,” Catania said. “And so in the middle of that, I realized that the government had pretty much failed us in terms of preparing for the storm. And I was pretty mad, frankly. And so I got together with a couple of colleagues and we decided to write an open letter.”

She said that it was also borne out of a sense of frustration felt among climate scientists that their warnings about events like last month’s storm weren’t being heeded.

“This storm is just a canary in the coal mine for the issues that Texas is going to face into the future,” Catania said. “And the Texas climate scientists who signed on to this letter have seen this for decades and wrote about it for decades. And I guess in general, we feel frustrated that the government here is not taking into account some of the studies that we’re putting out about our state and trying to prepare for these kinds of challenges in a more general way.”

The letter points out that Texas is one of the states that has the most to lose from increasingly severe weather events, citing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, that found that climate and weather events have cost the state $124 billion since 1980. Catania said Texas is vulnerable to droughts, flood, and sea level rise.

“Our coastline is particularly vulnerable because it’s very shallow slopes,” Catania said. “The port city of Houston is so incredibly important for, you know, Texas is the ninth largest economy on earth, and that’s largely because of exports out of the port of Houston. And if you start inundating that port, it’s a huge expense. So we need to think about these things so that we don’t pay the cost down the road.”