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Changing Climate Means Hotter Days for CO Front Range

More scorchers in store? Climate change could bring hotter temperatures to Colorado in coming decades. (Pixabay)
More scorchers in store? Climate change could bring hotter temperatures to Colorado in coming decades. (Pixabay)
September 28, 2016

DENVER - If global greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, cities along Colorado's Front Range will see hotter summers and more powerful storms and wildfires, according to a new analysis.

By 2050, the study from the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization predicted, the Denver metro area - which rarely tops 100 degrees - will see an average of seven days a year above that marker, and more than a month of extreme heat later in the century. Stephen Saunders, the group's president, said the climate would be fundamentally different.

"By the middle of the century, Denver summers could average as hot as El Paso, Texas, has been in recent years," he said. "And if we have sustained periods - several days in a row - that are over 100 degrees, we've learned from other parts of the country that people can die."

The study projected that Boulder could be in for nearly 40 days a year above 95 degrees by mid-century, with Fort Collins at 24 days. The analysis of Boulder and Larimer counties was funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to help counties most affected by the state's recent flooding and wildfire disasters prepare for increased risks driven by the changing climate. The group's projections used multiple climate models based on two possible emission scenarios: "business as usual" and rapid and sustained global reductions.

Saunders warned that if no action is taken, it's clear Colorado will get hotter. He noted that the full impacts of climate change will depend on what happens going forward.

"But if we bring down emissions globally, we can really keep from having climate that we can't cope with," he said. "We can keep the extent of the change within something that's manageable, and still keeps Colorado a great place to live and work and play."

Saunders said he thinks the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan is a good first step toward tackling CO2, but more will need to be done - including reducing methane waste from oil and gas production - to reach climate goals set in Paris. A federal appeals court on Tuesday heard arguments from states and businesses seeking to block the plan.

The analysis is online at rockymountainclimate.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO