Climate reports project coming changes in Indiana

Models show Indiana’s summer temperatures in 2050 will be more like those of Arkansas and Tennessee today

Indiana’s forests will likely benefit from the state’s changing climate in the short term, thanks to longer growing seasons and a greater concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But drawbacks such as increased spring flooding and summer drought are likely to override those benefits in the long term.

Those were some of the key findings in reports from the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment presented during a community briefing Tuesday at St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Bloomington.

The reports, titled “Indiana’s Future Forests” and “Maintaining Indiana’s Urban Green Spaces,” are part of a larger update to a report the Purdue University Climate Change Research Center put together for former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar about 10 years ago. Lugar wanted more information on how climate change would affect the state before voting on a bill that would provide economic incentives for reductions in pollutant emissions, said Jeffrey Dukes, director of the climate research center. In the years since that report was released, people have asked for more information.

In response to those requests, the climate research center has put together several reports examining how expected changes in climate will affect specific sectors of the state. Reports titled “Indiana’s Past and Future Climate” and “Hoosiers’ Health in a Changing Climate” have already been released and are available online at The two reports discussed Tuesday also can be found on the website.

All the reports are a collaboration among researchers at several universities throughout the state, as well as government agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service. Richard Phillips, an associate professor of biology at Indiana University, summarized the Indiana forest report.

Indiana’s average annual temperature has increased 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, Dukes said. This rise in temperature is expected to continue and intensify. For perspective, Phillips said climate models show Indiana’s summer temperatures in 2050 will be more like those of Arkansas and Tennessee today. By 2100, summers in Indiana will be similar to what Houston, Texas, experiences today.

The increase in temperature will extend Indiana’s growing season, but it’s also expected to change weather patterns. Scientists predict Indiana will get more precipitation in the winter and spring. That precipitation is unlikely to fall as snow and more likely to fall in heavy downpours, increasing erosion. More drought is expected in summer and fall.

These changes will be detrimental to some species of plants and animals, while others will benefit, Phillips said. For instance, Indiana’s changing habitat will be less suitable for some tree species, such as American basswood and Eastern white pine, but more suitable for species such as silver maple and sycamore.

The changes will also make the state more suitable for plants from other states. Tree species such as black hickory and loblolly pine could become more common, but invasive species such as kudzu could establish themselves. Kudzu vines have caused millions of dollars in damage to forests in the eastern U.S., Phillips said.

Dukes said presenting the climate report in community briefings encourages networking between researchers at different universities and helps people in a community network with others who have similar interests. Those collaborations are key to preparing communities around the state for future climate changes.

“The decisions we’re making now will have implications down the road,” he said.