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Trends Trigger Climate Change Discussion in Utah

Judy Fahys
Utah State University is watching mountain snowpack to understand and forecase climate-change impacts in Utah. It's part of a national and global discussion.

Newspapers are reporting this week that some federal-government scientists worry the Trump administration will suppress their latest climate change update. Other reports say scientists in the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been warned to stop using the term “climate change.”

But here in Utah, the discussion is actually heating up.

Last month, a task force urged Republican Gov. Gary Herbert to consider climate changewarming in planning Utah’s water future. The term is mentioned dozens of times in its final Recommended State Water Strategy report.

Meanwhile, Jon Meyer of the Utah Climate Center says there are other, obvious reasons to be thinking about global warming here, like the pattern leading up to this summer’s record-hot weather in Salt Lake City.

“The trend is pretty obvious,” he says, “It doesn’t take an advanced degree in statistics to see the trend in the data set.

Climate scientists generally avoid linking short-term weather with climate change. They focus on patterns over decades or longer. But weather statistics for Utah align with that pattern in Meyer’s view.

One example is how all of the top-ten hottest months in Salt Lake City have happened in the last 15 years. In fact, July broke the record for average monthly temperatures over the past 143 years.

“What we’re seeing with the data really does fit the mold for what we should be seeing under a pattern of changing climate and warming conditions,” he says.

Meyer also points to nighttime low temperatures. Last month they continued an years-long trajectory upward and handily broke the past record.

“We’re retaining a lot of that heat overnight,” he says, “whereas it should have been headed out to space under normal conditions.”

And the entire summer, Meyer adds, is on track to be the hottest ever.

Those are just a few of the lines of data that fall into the patterns climate scientists have been tracking in Utah and elsewhere.

Trends like these also come up globally in a climate change report authored by federal-government scientists that’s featured Tuesday in the New York Times. Those scientists also consider the ways rising temperatures are likely to fuel drought and wildfire. In fact, one of the scientific papers they cite focuses on how climate has affected fire in Utahover centuries.

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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