With Earth Day less than a week away, a new analysis looking at increasing temperatures since the environmental holiday was created in 1970 shows that temperatures in Utah have risen more dramatically than the global rate.
Utah’s average temperatures have risen three degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 — more than a degree Fahrenheit over the global average, according to the analysis from science communication organization Climate Central.
“Different places warm up at different rates because of different local conditions,” said Dr. Scott Denning, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, who is not affiliated with Climate Central.
“If you think of Arizona, it gets really hot there with the same amount of sunshine you get in Alabama. But in Alabama most of that sun goes to evaporate water. In Arizona it mostly just goes to make the ground hot which then makes the air hot,” Denning said.
According to the new state-by-state analysis, Utah is the fifth fastest warming state in the country.
“The data we’ve been given and that we’re seeing is that the rate of warming we have right now, Salt Lake City is essentially going to have the climate in 2100 like Tucson has today,” said Vicki Bennett, the sustainability director with Salt Lake City.
The local temperature increases translate to a variety of long-term environmental and public health trends, Bennett said. More forest fires lead to more weeks of smoky air, less snowpack can strain drinking water supplies, and hotter temperatures mean more heat stress on vulnerable populations.
She says the Salt Lake County health department is already looking into “cooling centers” — places people who can’t afford air conditioning systems can go for relief from extreme heat.
Denning with Colorado State says the biggest problem in the Mountain West is that demand put on water goes up dramatically with rising temperatures, which leads to longer wildfire seasons.
“Thirstier trees, longer fire seasons and more hot, windy days. We have dramatically more fire than we used to. About twice as much acreage is burning every summer in the West now as did 30 years ago,” Denning said.
Bennett with Salt Lake City said this information is an important reminder for individuals to take steps to reduce their personal carbon emissions and take action against the threat of climate change.
“We’re dealing with this on a daily basis. It isn’t this amorphous national and international issue. It really is affecting us right here locally,” she said.