Saturday, September 24, 2016

Colorado Climate Change Future: Grim - According to New Report

A house is fully engulfed by the Black Forest Fire.
Fires like this will be common in Colorado in 25-30 years.

A newly released report (on Thursday) commissioned by three Front Range cities forecasts grim climate conditions for Colorado - certainly for the Front Range, and likely the entire state. This according to the Louisville, CO-based Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.. The forecast includes an increase in the average number of days with temperatures over 100 F, as well as increased precipitation for other areas, i.e. featuring severe winter or summer storms. Already, here in the Springs - two months ago- we were lashed with the worst hail storm in memory with hail stones up to the size of softballs.

We just had our entire roof repaired following hail strikes with pits, holes that one roofer compared to "meteorites" - an exaggeration but he got the point over to us. Now, we are awaiting one entire south side of the siding to be replaced after it was literally ripped into multiple holes by the hail. According to the insurance company (Hartford) hundreds of homes have been affected putting enormous pressure on roofers and others in the area, now forcing wait times of many weeks to complete repairs.  This is only a taste of what's to come if the RMCO projections turn out to be even 50% correct, and there's more reason to believe the probability will be a lot higher.

Much of this isn't surprising in that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) made similar predictions, including for the entire Rocky Mountain  West, some six years ago. They projected hotter, drier conditions with extended droughts and enhanced fire danger especially as the forests ravaged by the mountain pine beetle spread. See, e.g. this report on the pest.

What this pest does is nothing short of horrendous, in converting living plant tissue into highly flammable dead bark for which the slightest spark can start a conflagration. Those readers interested in a detailed account of the trepidations of this pest can get hold of the superb book: The Dying of the Trees.  You can read a shorter account here:

The point is the beetle is a major catalyst for all the ongoing and uncontained Colorado wild fires, including the nearby Waldo Canyon fire  four years ago.  At the time I posted that thermal currents and winds also dispersed parts of the fire's burgeoning smoke plumes eastward, toward the east side of Colorado Springs where we live. 
Basically, if heat-trapping emissions into the atmosphere keep increasing, the northern Front Range climate by 2050 will be fundamentally different. According to lead  researcher Stephen Saunders, director of RMCO,:

By the middle of the century, summers here will be as hot as summers have been recently in El Paso.  Half the houses in Denver today do not have air conditioning. We’re going to be facing serious threats to people’s health because of these temperature increases,”


Temperature increases also will drive wildfires, increased evaporation from reservoirs, changes in snowpack, and enormous increases in energy use for air conditioning. These temperature changes will affect every aspect of our life.”

Already, Denver's average summer temperature has increased. This year, the average temperature in Denver for June, July and August was 72.7 degrees — 1.5 degrees higher than the annual average of 71.2 dating to 1872, said Kyle Fredin, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Boulder. If current trends in heat-trapping emissions continue, Denver residents by 2050 will face an average of 35 days a year where temperatures hit 95 degrees or hotter, the study found. Right now, the average is five days a year.

Boulder by 2050 will have an average 38 days a year with temperatures exceeding 95 degrees and, by the end of the century, an average of 75 such days a year. The studies found Fort Collins by 2050 will have an average 24 days with temperatures exceeding 95 degrees and 58 days on average by the end of the century.

These numbers may not significantly impress many people, but they should given they mean vastly more demands on the power grid, already stretched energy sources. Currently, half the houses in Denver lack air conditioning as noted above by RMCO Director Stephen Saunders. The proportion is even greater here in Colorado Springs (65%). That means more health problems for those who don't install it, but it also implies the probability of more power outs if all those people do. This is something the deniers need to register as they keep pooh-poohing consequences of a rapidly changing climate.

According to a Denver Post account (Sept. 23, p 1A) the RMCO report was commissioned for the purpose of:

"helping Colorado prepare and are based on government temperature data and university consortium climate models. RMCO does advocacy work in favor of limiting greenhouse gas emissions in addition to climate research. Denver environmental health officials commissioned the Denver climate analysis. Boulder and Fort Collins analyses were done as part of a $57,300 project run by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Denver officials commissioned this study for $9,000 “as a way to frame our actions on climate, both for the mitigation of climate altering greenhouse gas emissions and the adaptation to a warming, altered climate,” city spokeswoman Kerra Jones said. “This study was intended to bring real data into models that could project what that might specifically mean for Denver and the metro area.”

Officials in the three cities that commissioned the study are also painfully aware of the role of increased CO2 emissions. (An appreciation that's been slow to emerge in the right wing City Council members here in the Springs). Prompted to act,  Denver officials last year issued a Climate Action Plan calling for citywide cutting of emissions by 80 percent, below 2005 levels, by 2050.

 Unfortunately, as the Post notes, "local efforts to reduce emissions from vehicles, factories, the oil and gas industry and other sources in Colorado likely would make a small difference because climate change is driven by global-scale increases in heat-trapping gases." So unless thousands of other municipalities around the planet  take action, the difference in conditions will hardly be noticeable. It is a global problem.  According to Saunders, quoted in the Post:

All this depends on global emissions. However, people around the world will be looking to see what we do here in response.”

Indeed. A prime reason we moved to Colorado 16 years ago was because we believed it to be one of the few places - given its mean altitude - that might weather the worst excesses of climate change. It now appears we were wrong, but when we look around and see the likely impacts on other areas -including Barbados - we still realize we probably have been relatively lucky. Besides, neither of us are likely to still be around when the worst arrives!


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