COLORADO – Colorado’s climate is warmer and drier than it was just a decade ago. NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information recently released the new “Climate Normals” for the United States.
The big picture shows most areas across Colorado have seen a warming temperature and drop in precipitation on an annual basis. One degree seems like a small change, but a warming, drier climate can lead to severe droughts, larger wildfires, and even water shortages.
“When you see that temperature creep up, it’s indicative, both locally and globally, that we’re getting warmer. The impacts of that as we saw, especially last summer where we’re several degrees above average, we can some pretty big impacts with wildfires,” said Russ Schumacher, Colorado State Climatologist.
Colorado Springs’ average snowfall dropped around 5 inches for the year, and average high temperature rose 1.9 degrees. Pueblo’s average high temperature climbed almost 1 degree while average snowfall is down 3 and a half inches.
When talking about “Climate Normals”, it’s referencing average rain, snow, and temperature over a 30 year period. Since climate happens on a larger scale, these are updated every 10 years to create averages that balance out variations that come with Colorado’s unexpected weather.
“Everywhere in Colorado has seen warming, and so we see this in the difference between the normals. And that 30 year period was warmer than the previous 30 year period. The combination of warming and drying is not what we want to see,” said Schumacher.
The warmer temperatures directly impact the amount of snow we’re able to see in a given year. Trends across Colorado show less snowfall during spring and fall due to the warmth, and state snowpack is melting faster.
“Even what we would consider the normal amount of precipitation doesn’t go as far in terms of impacts for agriculture because the warmer the atmosphere gets, the thirstier it is. And the more it wants to pull that water from the soils or the forests,” said Schumacher.