Observed climatic changes in West Virginia and opportunities for agriculture

Abstract

Increasing variability in temperature and precipitation patterns is reducing the security of natural resources including food, water, and energy in many locations globally. Changes in climate are particularly relevant to the agricultural sector, given the increasing demand for food, less predictable water supplies, and more expensive energy. Among these challenges, however, are opportunities to improve human health with climate-conscious approaches to field crop production. Such opportunities may be emerging in historically productive areas in the Appalachian region of the United States including West Virginia that are often typified by food deserts. Long-term records of farm count, farm area, and crop yield data for West Virginia’s most valuable crops are presented relative to national averages to better understand emergent challenges and opportunities associated with local climate changes. Observed datasets of daily maximum temperature, minimum temperature, and precipitation for 18 climate observation sites in West Virginia dating back to at least 1930 were used to assess climatic trends between 1900 and 2016. To account for the regions’ complex physiography, daily data were averaged annually and spatially (all 18 sites). The maximum temperatures were shown to decrease significantly (− 0.78 °C/century; p = 0.001), whereas the minimum temperatures increased significantly (0.44 °C/century; p = 0.017), and precipitation increased (25.4 mm/century). Additionally, intra-annual variance of maximum temperatures decreased (− 0.22 °C/century), minimum temperatures increased significantly (0.39 °C/century; p = 0.041), and precipitation increased (25.4 mm/century). Observed climate trends suggest that local and regional changes in land-atmosphere interactions may result in a wetter and more temperate Appalachian climate characterized by longer growing seasons that  may be supportive of a broader range of crops. Results suggest that strategically expanding local agriculture to adapt to changing climate could simultaneously improve human health and socioeconomic status in West Virginia, the broader Appalachian region, and other similar physiographic locations globally.

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Acknowledgements

Special thanks are due to many scientists of the Interdisciplinary Hydrology Laboratory (www.forh2o.net).

Funding

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number OIA-1458952, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project 1011536, and the West Virginia Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.

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Correspondence to Evan Kutta.

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Kutta, E., Hubbart, J.A. Observed climatic changes in West Virginia and opportunities for agriculture. Reg Environ Change 19, 1087–1099 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-018-1455-y

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Appalachia
  • Agriculture
  • Food desert
  • Climate variance
  • Land-atmosphere coupling