JoAnne Skelly: Climate change impacts on Nevada
I’ve been curious how climate change will affect Nevada in years to come. I found an informative site, http://statesatrisk.org/nevada/, that’s put out by http://www.climatecentral.org. This organization has “leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public. Climate Central surveys and conducts scientific research on climate change and informs the public of key findings. Members of the Climate Central staff and board are among the most respected leaders in climate science,” many from Princeton University.
Here are a couple of surprising and uncomfortable discoveries based on “how average annual temperatures have been changing since 1965.” Reno is the fastest warming city in the United States with a 1.39-degree Fahrenheit rise each decade. Las Vegas is the third fastest warming city with a 1.04-degree F rise each decade. Las Vegas will be more humid, increasing the risk for heat-related illnesses. According to the statesatrisk.org site, “Nevada faces an average threat from extreme heat but has taken the least amount of action overall to prepare for its risks.” By 2050, Nevada will likely have 30 days per year “classified as dangerous or extremely dangerous” (National Weather Service), up from 20 days currently. Heat wave days will “increase from 15 to nearly 55 days a year.” One projected impact will affect Great Basin National Park by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions remain on their current trend. Great Basin currently averages 83 degrees in the summer but will be 8 to 12 degrees hotter.
With shrinking snow pack and warmer days, soils dry out, unable to provide the moisture plants need. Dry plants mean fuel for wildfire. Looking at the last few years, we’ve seen horrible wildfires in California and other states. There will be more and larger wildfires in Nevada too. Fires release carbon stored in trees and plants, turning them into sources for carbon emissions magnifying the global warming trend.
Across the state, “weather systems that bring rain are becoming more rare.” The chance of a drought lasting longer than 35 years is up by 50 percent across the West/Southwest. Decade-long droughts such as what hit the Dust Bowl in the 1930s are projected to be about 90 percent. Around our area, the risk of “persistent drought” ranges from 20 percent to 30 percent, with the southern part of the state ranging from 30 percent to 40 percent.
Hotter temperatures and drought will mean less water available for home landscapes and gardens as well.
JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.