Climate Change is simply a change in the usual weather that a location experiences over time. That location could be the 80218 zip code in Denver, it could be the state of Colorado, the contiguous United States or the entire planet. Thanks to modern technologies and weather tracking systems, we are able to visualize the changes in our weather and climate on every scale.

There are numerous reasons that Climate Change can happen. According to NASAs Climate Change Page, “many things can cause climate to change all on its own. Earth’s distance from the sun can change. The sun can send out more or less energy. Oceans can change. When a volcano erupts, it can change our climate. Most scientists say that humans can change the climate too. People drive cars. People heat and cool their houses. All those things take energy. One way we get energy is by burning coal, oil and gas. Burning these things puts gases into the air. The gases cause the air to heat up. This can change the climate of a place. It also can change Earth’s climate.”

Annual U.S. temperature compared to the 20th-century average for each U.S. Climate Normals period from 1901-1930 (upper left) to 1991-2020 (lower right). (NOAA NCEI)

The US annual temperature when comparing the climate normals from this decade to decades past show that a large chunk of the county has seen a warming trend with the most notable warmth being experienced in the Western US, areas around the Great Lakes, the Northeast and Florida – so almost everywhere. Before we dive into the change that Colorado’s summers have seen in terms of its temperatures, here are some Global figures that you should learn about in regard to Climate Change.

Global Temperature Rise
The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.12-degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and other human activities. Most of the warming occurred in the past 40 years. The years 2016 and 2020 are tied for the warmest year on record.

Warming Oceans
The ocean has absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 100 meters (about 328 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. Earth stores 90% of the extra energy in the ocean.

Sea Level Rise
Global sea level rose about 8 inches (20 centimeters) in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century and accelerating slightly every year.

Ocean Acidification
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30-percent. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the ocean.

Decreased Snow Cover
Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and the snow is melting earlier.

Extreme Events
The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.

In 2020 alone, there were 22 natural disasters that caused at least a billion dollars in damage – the most billion-dollar natural disasters to happen in a year. Between 2001 and 2010, the United States averaged 4.8 billion-dollar natural disasters per year. Between 2011 and 2020, the United States averaged 10.9 billion-dollar natural disasters per year. A trend that looks to continue to increase.

In 2020, the United States experienced record-smashing 22 weather or climate disasters that each resulted in at least $1 billion in damages, including a record 7 linked to landfalling hurricanes or tropical storms. NOAA map by NCEI.

The extreme drought and fire season that was witnessed in Colorado and neighboring states in 2020 was included on the list of billion-dollar disasters for the year. As it has been shown, the Western US is experiencing more drought and worsening fire seasons as a result of warming temperatures and a changing climate and this is a trend that is likely to continue with summers getting hotter across the Western US including all of Colorado.

Changes in summer temperatures across the United State – Climate Central

The change in temperatures during the summer months is going up across most of the country with the exception of the High Plains. The slight cooling that is being experienced across the north central section of the country is largely due to farming and irrigation efforts that lead to evaporation which is a cooling process.

Summer Warming
On a national scale, the meteorological summer season, which runs from June 1 through August 31, has warmed by at least 2.0-degrees since 1970, according to Climate Central, an independent organization that surveys and conducts scientific research on climate change. In Denver and Colorado Springs, the summer season has warmed by 2.6-degrees since 1970 denoting that these two cities are warming faster than the National average. In Grand Junction the average temperature during the summer has warmed by 1.0-degree, a smaller but still notable change in this area of the state.

What this type of change can do is increase our our number of extreme heat days. We used to average about 5 days of 95-degree heat in Denver during the summer months prior to the 1970s and now we average over 20 days. In Colorado Springs, the city averages 16 more days of 95-degree heat than in 1970 and in Grand Junction, the Western Slope city averages 5 more days of 95-degree heat per summer now than in 1970.

The difference that we see when comparing Denver or Colorado Springs to Grand Junction comes because, on average, Grand Junction experiences higher temperatures throughout the year. With the Western Slope of Colorado being a dry and arid desert climate, temperature and precipitation extremes are more difficult to reach but as we’ve seen as of late, temperatures have had no trouble reaching dangerous levels several times this year already. Don’t forget the record-shattering heatwave we just experienced before the peak summer heat has even set in. Extreme heat and extreme drought events have been occuring consistently across the west since the turn of the century bringing devastating wildfires and epic heat events to a large swath of the country year after year proving that the extremes that we’ve already been living with may become the normal expectation.

Summer nighttime temperatures are warming in Denver – Climate Central

Summer nights are typically where we can balance out the daily temperature average due to the fact that we can cool off so efficiently with the normally dry air that we have here but data is showing that even our nighttime temperatures are rising. In Denver our average nighttime temperature has risen by 1.8-degrees since 1970. In Colorado Springs, the average nightly temperature has warmed by 1.7-degrees since 1970 and in Grand Junction, the average nightly temperature has risen by 0.3-degrees since 1970. Overall, a warming trend is noted across all parameters during the summer season.

For us here in the Western US, “droughts and heat waves are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense. Summer temperatures are projected to continue rising, and a reduction of soil moisture, which exacerbates heat waves, is projected for much of the western and central U.S. in summer. By the end of this century, what have been once-in-20-year extreme heat days are projected to occur every two or three years over most of the nation,” according to NASA.gov.

Water supply and wildfire concerns will be prominent news headlines as our climate continues to change in Colorado. Of course, we will still have the occasional crippling winter storms and arctic air outbreaks but the main point here is that Colorado is getting warmer and drier during the summer months as the climate changes, that spells issues for many industries in our state and needless to say, for anyone that calls Colorado home.

As a state and as a country, we need to conserve and protect our water systems, especially in the west. We should increase the use of renewable energy and become more energy efficient. Invest in fuel-efficient modes of transportation, buy energy-efficient appliances, lessen water usage or find a way to effectively treat and recycle water and prepare, etc. We must prepare for what’s to come as many people have already been displaced by natural causes across the state, the country and the world. The climate won’t wait for you to be ready for what can be unleashed so it’s best to stay alert, stay educated and don’t deny what science is showing and what mother nature is proving.

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