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SALT LAKE CITY — Climate change will negatively impact Utah environmentally and economically over the next century, according to scientists.
Officials said local research shows Utah is warming faster than the global average, which is having specific impacts on our state.
“It’s something that we’re going to have to deal with right now,” said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. He has studied climate change in Utah for 25 years. “What we’re doing has lasting consequences for our children, and our grandchildren and their children,” he said.
Climate change continues to be politically controversial despite broad, scientific agreement that human activity is making the planet warmer. But, the Utah State Legislature formally recognized the existence of climate change and its impacts in 2018.
McInerney said research shows Utah’s climate is changing because the earth is warming at a rate of two degrees or more over the last century.
“In Utah, we’re warming faster than the global average, and we’re anticipated to warm 10 degrees from the 1950 to 1980 average by 2100,” he said. “That’s massive amounts of heat.”
McInerney said the changing climate over the next few decades is expected to cut the amount of water in our reservoirs, decrease the productivity of Utah agriculture, negatively impact our health and hurt the ski industry. It’s something we have to deal with now, he said, or the western U.S. could be snow-free in 100 years.
“Those are the four main areas that are being impacted right now and will be impacted much more in the future,” he said.
Warmer winter storms will limit Utah’s water resources. McInerney said winter storms from the Pacific Northwest are not as frequent as they were in decades past.
“They are less frequent, but they’re more intense,” he said. “When we do get storms they are much more potent. They’re going to come in the form of deluges during the winter months, and that’s going to be problematic.”
What you see in the snow in the wintertime will become rain, until eventually the tops of Big and Little Cottonwood, and maybe Ben Lomond Peak, will be the only areas to have snow during the winter.
–Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City
Those warmer winter storms will change Utah’s water resources. McInerney said Utah needs winter snow, not rain, because spring run-off recharges reservoirs. Snowpack melts into a reliable water capture system that supports agriculture and life in our communities.
“We have a water supply system that works wonderfully and it’s going to change,” he said.
McInerney said the changing climate will decrease the water supply in Utah, especially on the Wasatch Front.
“We have an increased amount of high pressure in the winter over the west which shunts storms up into Canada, and leaves us dryer,” McInerney said.
That weather pattern is becoming more prevalent, he added. That’s bad news for agriculture and the ski industry which both depend on Utah snowpack. The prediction for 2100?
“What you see in the snow in the wintertime will become rain, until eventually the tops of Big and Little Cottonwood, and maybe Ben Lomond Peak, will be the only areas to have snow during the winter,” McInerney said.
Snowstorms are also good for our health. They break down the high pressure which leads to Utah’s wintertime pollution. To turn it around, McInerney said, CO2 needs to be scrubbed from the atmosphere and we need to stop pumping greenhouse gases into it.
“When you look at the scientists who do the research, 98% roughly, say that it’s happening, and we’re causing it,” McInerney said.