Southwest #Colorado is getting hotter, experts say — The Durango Herald #ActOnClimate

Graphic credit: The Washington Post (Note: NOAA does not provide data for Alaska or Hawaii for this time period.)

From The Durango Herald (Bret Hauff):

Rising temperatures mean less ground water, changing plants

On Colorado’s Western Slope, the average temperature has increased at least 2.7 degrees since 1895, based on 123 years of weather records, NOAA scientists estimate.

Darrin Parmenter, director for the Colorado State University Extension Office in La Plata County, said the region’s average low temperature during the winter – a measure the United States Department of Agriculture calls “hardiness” – has increased significantly.

The hardiness statistic is measured on a scale of 1 to 13; the higher the number, the warmer the average low temperature. In the 1990s, Parmenter said Durango was classified in Zone 4. The city is now in Zone 6…

A Washington Post investigation and analysis of nationwide climate found Southwest Colorado is just south of one of the fastest-warming regions in the country. Grand Junction; Moab, Utah; and Montrose form the corners of a triangle of average annual temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, since 1895.

Global climate data may be difficult for people outside the science community to appreciate, said Heidi Steltzer, professor of biology and environmental science at Fort Lewis College. Humans don’t experience time on the scales climate is measured…

Colorado has historically had shorter growing seasons because of extended snowpack, and high-snow winters in the 1930s through the 1960s typically led to a lot of rain in the summer, Steltzer said. The 2018-19 winter snowpack filled the San Juan Mountains and nourished the San Juan Basin much like it did in the mid-1900s.

Steltzer said she was excited for the opportunity to study the effects of late snow in the Alpine environment – she hadn’t seen snow like there was this spring in more than 20 years living in Colorado and studying the Rocky Mountains’ climate.

But what she saw took her by surprise. The snow melted in the high country sooner than expected, she said. Her field work in the San Juan Mountains this summer showed that plants at high elevations are “experiencing drought conditions” despite snow burying the region late into the spring.

Steltzer suspects that below-average rainfall and higher average temperatures this summer may have robbed the high country of valuable water storage and replenishment. Both can be attributed to a changing climate, she said…

Durango City Council committed earlier this year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions citywide by 80% and encourage the use of 100% renewable electricity in Durango by 2050. That includes transforming public energy usage for government buildings and activities while also crafting policies to encourage renewable electricity for residents and businesses.

FLC cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 58% from 2011 to 2018 and aims to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050.

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