These are the Top Climate Threats to Routt County.
Over the last two decades, we have seen how a changing climate has already begun to affect Routt County. Left unaddressed, regional climate change will significantly impact daily life for residents and visitors in the future.
Located in northwest Colorado and home to extensive natural beauty, abundant outdoor recreation opportunities, and the native wilderness of the Rocky Mountains, Routt County is completely synonymous with the outdoors. If current emission levels are not abated, we are in danger of experiencing significant impacts from changes in the regional climate. These impacts may include changes in precipitation and the seasonality of precipitation, increased wildfire risk, and reduced snowpack, leading to lower flow levels in the waterways, reduced water availability, and decreased agricultural yields. These impacts are likely to result in complex variations that will significantly impact our unique environment, health and the economy.
Summer and winter temperatures are expected to increase over the next century. By 2050, the average annual statewide temperature is projected to increase by 3.5°F to 6.5°F. Temperatures above 100 bring increasingly serious health risks, especially for vulnerable populations, and lead to increased wildfire risk, increased severity of drought, and impacts the snowpack.
With warming temperatures come winters with greater weather variability and earlier spring melting, ultimately leading to a shorter snow season.
Increased Wildfire Risk
Warmer temperatures and increasingly sporadic precipitation can lead to drought conditions that dry out the forests and other lands in the County. Warming temperatures also stress the trees, weakening them to disease and infestation, like the pine beetle epidemic that killed close to 346,000 acres (1996-2021) of lodgepole pine in Routt County. Dead and dry vegetation add to the risk of wildfires, which are projected to increase in frequency, intensity and size due to climate change. This threatens human safety and health, property, and our natural resources.
Since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) introduced the U.S. Drought Monitor in 2000, Colorado has been in a near-constant state of drought. Colorado’s river and streamflows are highly variable and dependent on winter snowpack and spring runoff. Drought impacts the ability for agriculture, cities, and industries to continue as normal.
Both winter and summer precipitation is expected to become more variable in the future. This means that there will be fewer precipitation events, and those events that do occur will be more extreme and heavy. Changing precipitation patterns are leading to increased variability in vegetation patterns, increasing wildfire risk, and less predictable growing seasons. In the winter, increased variability can lead to larger snow storms or rain on snow events, both of which can increase variability in snow conditions and resulting avalanche danger.
As precipitation becomes more variable with climate change, rainfall events that do occur will be more extreme and can cause catastrophic flooding. Extreme precipitation events combined with earlier spring runoff can lead to disastrous flooding events. This is a major hazard for businesses and homes in the floodplain and can damage our community’s drinking and waste water infrastructure.