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4/27/2017 Newsela | Climate change in the U.S.

Great Plains

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Bison graze on prairie grasslands within sight of vehicles driving through Custer State Park on June 10, 2012, in Custer, South Dakota. Photo by: Melanie Stetson Freeman/The
Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Climate change in the U.S. Great Plains


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, adapted by Newsela sta

Overview

The Great Plains stretch from Canada to Mexico across the The Great Plains extend down the middle of the United States. The
region covers the states of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South
middle of the country. They are made up of flat plains. The Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Map: EPA.gov. [click to
expand]
Plains are made up many kinds of ecosystems. They include

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forests, marshes and desert. The region has very different


climates. Different areas have different temperatures and
amounts of rain and snow.

The region experiences a wide range of temperatures. In the


mountains of Montana and Wyoming, average temperatures are
less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In southern Texas, it is 70
degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures are warming across the
Great Plains. North Dakota's average temperature has increased faster than any other state in the lower 48
states.The number of days with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit are expected to double in the northern
Plains by 2050. The southern Plains may experience worse heat, with four times the number of days over 100
degrees Fahrenheitthan it currently gets. Higher temperatures lead to greater evaporation and surface water losses,
leading to less drinking water. Also, higher temperatures mean more energy and electricity is needed for air
conditioning.

Average rainfall in the Great Plains changes as you go from east to west. Eastern Texas and Oklahoma experience
more than 50 inches a year. Parts of Montana, Wyoming and western Texas receive less than 15 inches a year.
Future patterns will change across the region. In northern states, rain and snow will increase. In the central Great
Plains, less rainfall is expected. This could lead to drier summers. Southern states will experience longer periods
without rainfall.

EffectsOnCommunities

Climate change hits young, elderly, ill and poor people the hardest. The Great Plains has 70native tribes. They have
fewer hospitals and less access to health care to protect them.

Climate change is also affecting tribal way of life. Some culturally important plants and animals have disappeared.
Spring has been coming earlier, which changes when they can have certain events.

EffectsOnWater
Water in this region comes mostly from the High Plains Aquifer system. An aquifer is a way for water to travel
underground. The High Plains Aquifer runs beneath parts of eight states. It also provides drinking water for more
than 80 percent of the people living above it. The region also uses it to produce energy through dams.

More water leaves the aquifer than comes in. It goes out through irrigation. Irrigation is what farmers use to water
plants without rain. The average water level has gone down by 14 feet since irrigation started around 1950. Water
returns to the aquifer from rain and snow. In the northern Great Plains, rain can recharge the aquifer quickly.
However, climate change might increase flooding, causing dirtier water and washing away soil. In the southern
part, with less rain and snow, the aquifer's water level goes down even more. Climate change could worsen this
situation by causing drier conditions and increasing the need for irrigation.

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Agriculture uses most of the landin the Great Plains. It is important to business there. Climate change could make
farming less predictable.

In the northern Plains, crops benefit from increased rain and snow in winter and spring. However, if the fields
become too wet, fewer crops can grow. Heavier rainfall would also harm crops and soil quality. Summer rainfall is
not expected to go up. This makes drought more dangerous. Meanwhile, higher summer temperatures are likely to
lower plant growth. In the central and southern Plains, the higher temperatures and decreased rainfall will increase
irrigation demands. Crop growth could be cut in half.

The Great Plains is already experiencing warmer winters. This winter will be even warmer. More bugs and weeds
can come. Also, winter crops are in greater danger of damage.

Livestock, like cows and chickens, is a big part of business in the Great Plains. Warmer temperatures harm animals.
That means less meat, milk and eggs. Diseases may increase. It also costs more to keep the animals cool.

Livestock need a lot of water. Some of the largest water use in the country occurs in the Great Plains. Texas uses the
most water for livestock in the country. As livestock business continues, more water will be needed.

EffectsOnPlantsAndAnimals

Land is developed for humans to use. But thenanimals and plants have fewer places to live. Climate change is also
increasing harmful insect outbreaks and changing when plants flower. Wildfires are increasing.

Climate change is affecting animals hunted for food. This includes ducks, deer and fish. Many of these animals rely
on shallow lakes. The lakes also help recharge the High Plains Aquifer. Agricultural practices have changed most of
the large lakes that fill up for part of the year in the southern Great Plains.

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