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Rocky Mountain Climate Organization modelling predicts Summit County will be hotter and receive less Precipitation Due to Ongoing Climate Change
Contact: Michael Wurzel, Sustainability Coordinator, Summit County Government
SUMMIT COUNTY – Hotter, dryer weather is in Summit County’s future according to recently released climate models from the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO). Breckenridge, Frisco and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, in partnership with Summit County, hired RMCO to forecast future temperature and precipitation in these areas, using the best available models and data, given a changing climate. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions like carbon dioxide and methane, emitted from burning fossil fuels, capture heat in the earth’s atmosphere and cause warming. The RMCO report predicts what temperatures and precipitation will be in low, medium, and high GHG emissions scenarios. RMCO models show a hotter, dryer future for these areas in Colorado, especially in a high emissions scenario.
With continuing high emissions, this area could average twelve 85°-plus days a year in mid-century (2040-2059), and 54 late in the century—compared to less than one in the recent past.
The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization’s report comes at a time in which Summit County and the rest of the west are in the midst of a historic, twenty-year drought that several years of above average snowfall and monsoonal rains would be unlikely to break. “There are several negative feedback loops associated with rising temperatures due to a warming climate,” says Summit County Sustainability Coordinator Michael Wurzel, “including increased fire danger, decreased snowpack and lower spring runoff that affect the mountain lifestyle we enjoy.” This report is localized proof that Summit County will not be insulated from the widespread effects of ongoing global climate change and represents further evidence for reducing GHG emissions from county operations and in our community.
In 2019, Summit County drafted and adopted a countywide Climate Action Plan and greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals in the sectors of energy, transportation, building and waste. Overall goals include reducing GHG emissions 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 through various initiatives, programs and commitments to rapid adoption of renewable energy and electric transportation. The County electricity provider, Xcel Energy, recently committed to 80% renewable energy by 2030 for all Coloradans they serve and 100% carbon neutral energy by 2050.
Rapid adoption of electric vehicles is necessary to meet the county’s climate action goals, and Summit County Government has committed to 100% electric or GHG emissions free vehicles by 2050. The electrification process is well underway, with 3 electric Summit Stage buses serving riders and 14 electric vehicle charging stations available in Frisco and Breckenridge for the workplace and public charging of electric passenger vehicles.
To address GHG emissions from the building sector, both residential and commercial, the County adopted a Sustainable Building Code, which requires new construction to be highly energy efficient. The County also offers rebate and incentive programs, in partnership with High County Conservation, for home and business energy efficiency and renewable projects, through the EnergySmart Colorado, ResourceWise Business, and Solarize Summit.
“The RMCO report is both a wakeup call that no communities will be spared the effects of climate change and an affirmation that climate action at the local government level matters, with Summit County Government, our community and partners doing our part to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Commissioner Josh Blanchard.
Summit County Government is not only striving to reduce its GHG emissions but also adapt to climate change right now to become a more resilient community. The chipping program helps to reduce fuels and timber around homes for hundreds of homeowners annually and thousands throughout the years. Landscape scale wildfire protection measures, like the community clear cuts around developed areas, have already proven to be highly effective measures. In 2018, a US Forest Service clear cut around Wildernest played a key role in the protection of that area from the Buffalo Fire and saved up to $1 billion in homes and infrastructure.
“Larger fires, mudslides, flash floods, and hazy days are the kind of erratic weather events climate models have been predicting for decades. It appears climate change is happening in real time now in Summit County, and we need to do our best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while at the same adapting to this unfortunate, new normal,” said Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence.
The good news from the RMCO models is that Summit County’s average temperatures and precipitation do not change severely in the low and medium emissions scenarios, which is good reason to continue the County’s commitments to climate action. Right now, in the average year, Summit County has 3 days of 80°-plus highs. By 2050, in a worst case scenario, days of 80°-plus would occur 12-37 times per summer. By the end of the century, days of 80°-plus would occur 54-89 times per summer. However, in the low and medium emissions scenarios, days of 80°-plus would occur only on average 12 times per summer, which is far less drastic in terms of temperature changes in the future.
“This report shows that in a low and medium emissions scenario, Summit County weather doesn’t change dramatically for the worse. That is a positive outcome, and all the motivation we need to continue and grow our commitment to climate action, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and climate resilience as a community,” said Commissioner Tamara Pogue.
For individuals interesting in taking action, see High Country Conservation’s Climate Action Toolkit, which outlines measures individuals can take to promote sustainability and reduce carbon emissions.