News Roundup: It's all about the heat

Climate change wreaks havoc from Portland to Phoenix

Sometimes scientists have lousy timing. Take, for example, the folks from the U.S. Geological Survey, Montana State University, and the University of Wyoming who just released a study on how human-caused climate change is threatening the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by cranking up average temperatures, reducing snowfall, and tinkering with the timing of spring runoffs. The evidence suggests things are only going to get worse.

Scientists used tree rings to chart the snow water equivalent on April 1 over the last eight centuries in the Greater Yellowstone Area. The light blue lines indicate years, the thick blue line indicates decadal trends. The pink bar marks the Dust Bowl. Source: The Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment.

They could have told us all of this in February, when we’re freezing our butts off and looking for some respite. Instead, they put out the news just as a wave of record-shattering heat waves scorch the Western U.S. as if to say: You think this is bad? Well, just you wait.

The Greater Yellowstone researchers found:

  • The region is experiencing the highest average temperatures of the last 20,000 years, at least. It’s likely as warm now as it has been in 800,000 years.

  • The mean annual temperature has increased by 2.3 F degrees since 1950 and could jump by another 5-10 degrees by 2100.

  • That has lengthened the growing season by about two weeks.

  • Annual precipitation has remained steady, but the timing of snow- and rain-fall has shifted and average snowfall has declined.

  • Peak streamflow levels are holding steady, but come an average of eight days earlier; average streamflows have declined by 3 percent to 11 percent since 1950.

  • All of these trends will continue into the future so long as humans continue to warm the planet.

That means that the blistering heat-event the West is now experiencing could become more intense and more frequent as time goes on.

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Speaking of heat-events, it got ugly in the Southwest on June 17 and 18 and, just as that heat subsided a bit, the Northwest got slammed this weekend by the kind of temperatures typically seen only in places like Phoenix. Now California is about to get hit a second time.

The good news: A few drought-ravaged places got some rain this past week and forecasts are calling for serious moisture—and flash floods—for parched New Mexico in coming days. A few of the highlights and lowlights and, well, hotlights from around the West: