Climate changes and the local environment:
As the concentration of greenhouse gases increases, temperatures are expected to rise across the United States. Under a high emissions scenario, which occurs if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, Buffalo County could see an increase in mean daily maximum temperature from 61˚F to 72˚F by 2100. The average number of days with a minimum temperature below 32 ˚F between 1950 and 2004 was 168 days. This figure is projected to decrease to approximately 110 days by 2100.
On the other hand, the number days with a maximum temperature above 95 ˚F will increase from 20 (1950 to 2004 average) to 70 days by 2100. This is significant as this represents an approximately 250% change in days with high heat. It should be noted that the specific figures for the predicted temperature changes are based on the median predicted value from all projections under the high emissions scenario.
As the temperature increases, the amount of precipitation is also expected to rise by up to 35 percent, particularly in the spring, compared to the 1960-1970 average by 2080 under a high emissions scenario. However, a large portion of this increase will be accounted for by heavy downpours and more intense storms because as the air warms it is able to hold and then consequently release more water vapor. Because of this, Buffalo County will see an increase in both the risk and severity of summertime drought. The state of South Dakota is projected to see a 75% increase in its summer drought threat index.
Additionally, the soil is expected to become drier as the warmer temperatures increase the rate of evaporation and water use by plants. Increased precipitation will only partially offset this because with a higher number of heavy precipitation events the ground will absorb less water and more will run off. The runoff, especially into the Missouri River, which borders Buffalo County, will increase the risk of inland flooding.
How we know:
The projections for temperature and precipitation come from the publically available US Climate Resilience Toolkit and Climate Explorer developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Based on historical weather data collected from weather stations in Buffalo County and surrounding areas, it computes models of future precipitation and temperatures under both high and low emission scenarios.
Information about the drought and inland flooding risk comes from States at Risk’s Report Card for South Dakota developed by analysts at Climate Central and ICF International. The report assesses how much a state is threatened by and prepared for future extreme heat, drought, wildfires, inland flooding, and coastal flooding. Information about predicted changes in the soil come from a 2016 Environmental Protection Agency report “What Climate Change Means for South Dakota.”
Although the predicted climate changes are less severe in Buffalo County than in other parts of the United States, their impacts are exacerbated by the fact that this county is the second poorest in the United States (2017) and that its residents are part of one of the most marginalized groups in the United States. The majority of Buffalo County is part of the Crow Creek Indian Reservation inhabited by the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. Of the 2,038 residents, 74.9% are Native American and 18.5 % are white. With the lowest median per capita income in the United States and with more than 70% of the residents unemployed, roughly 50 % of the population lives under the federal poverty line.
Many homes in this county lack indoor plumbing and kitchens. Families struggle to pay their electric and heating bills. Increased inland flooding especially for those living near the Missouri River and the associated property damages will present an increased economic burden in the future. As the number of days with freezing temperature decrease, people will need to heat their homes for less days a year relieving some financial strain. The number of days with extreme heat will increase, but most families cannot afford air conditioning. High heat will have detrimental health effects on the elderly, young children, and people with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma.
The changes in temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture will also impact agriculture in this county. Shorter, more mild winters and warmer summers may extend the growing season, but will also increase the abundance of pests and weeds. However, the drier soil and increased risk of droughts threaten crop yield. Agriculture is the second most common form of employment here, and therefore, changes threaten to make a poor population even poorer.
Most importantly, the predicted threats will impact the religion and cultural of the population living here. The Sioux tribes have a deep spiritual connection to the land, water, and animals. In response to the projected increase in temperatures and precipitation, wildlife will shift their ranges and migration patterns and will face habitat loss and heightened mortality. Many traditional foods gathered from the grasslands, including plants, roots, fruits, and mushrooms, will experience a change in their timing and abundance. These changes threaten the deep relationship the residents of this county feel with the environment around them. Climate change will not only continue the cycle of poverty in Buffalo county but will also impact their traditions.
Climate Change Perspectives from Indian Country. The Hill
What Climate Change Means for South Dakota. EPA
Article author: Anna Braendle, Georgetown University
Article editor: Dr. Dagomar Degroot, Georgetown University