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2015: Utah's Third Warmest Year

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Judy Fahys/KUER
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The Utah Climate Center Research team routinely monitors climatic conditions in the Wasatch. Last spring, Jobie Carlisle measured the water content of a thin snowpack during the warm spring.

Climate scientists said this week that 2015 was the warmest year on record globally and the second warmest in the United States. And Utah was relatively toasty, too.

Data from the Utah Climate Center at Utah State University shows last year was the 3rd warmest in around 130 years of counting. At an average of 51.2 degrees Fahrenheit for the year, that’s 4.4 degrees warmer than average.

“Any given year is going to be a combination of two things, really,” says Rob Davies, a physicist with the climate center. “First, there’s the natural variability of the climate system – you know, some years are a little warmer; some years are a little colder – and then of course there’s an underlying trend of global warming.”

In fact, Davies says the only month in 2015 that was not unusually warm was November. June and September were the warmest ever in Utah. And last February was practically sweltering at an average 10 degrees warmer than normal. The evidence points to fossil-fuel burning, adds Davies, since the strong El Nino weather pattern showed up too late to factor strongly in last year’s Utah temperatures.

“The initial analyses suggest that most of the warming of this record-breaking year, is from the greenhouse gas warming,” he says. “Actually, only a small part of it is due to the fact that it’s an El Nino year.”

Davies also says last years’ data blows away the notion that global warming has paused, because temperatures have been steadily rising over the last few decades.

Meanwhile, climate data shows Utah’s warming at about twice the rate of the global average.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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