Colorado 2050 Forecast Script

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Colorado!  This state-level forecast builds on what I shared in my 2050 forecast for the Southwestern region.  If you recall the highlights of that forecast, the southwest is looking at some pretty challenging projections around water availability, extreme heat, fire, and, to a degree that many people have not yet considered, power generation capacity.  I had a ton of people write me from Colorado and from New Mexico asking for more details on the specifics for their states.  We’re going to look at Colorado this week, and next week we’ll look at New Mexico.  I thought about doing them together, but these are big states, and they really do have distinctive challenges and opportunities coming up in the 2050 forecast.

For our Colorado forecast today, we’re going to talk about some important general trends for the state, and then we’ll be looking at a lot of maps.  First off, some general trends and figures.

The ongoing and likely to continue drought is amongst the most serious threats faced by the Southwest, and I am happy to say that Colorado is not as severely directly impacted by that drought as the other states in the region.  We’re going to check out a figure here, this shows the precipitation falling into the upper Colorado basin (1106).  Now in that name, Colorado is talking about the river and its greater watershed, but if you look at a picture here of the upper Colorado basin, you can see that the watershed covers a fair amount of the western slope of Colorado.  And as you can see in this figure, the total amount of precipitation doesn’t have any downward trend as we look at this historical data.  Temperature is increasing, which is going to change the way the water lays on the land and the amount of water plants need, but the water itself isn’t decreasing.  And as we’ll see, soon, the agricultural zone for the western slope of Colorado is projected to change, but not so dramatically as you might fear.  So what we’re looking at here for the western slope is not a catastrophe, it’s not the type of transformative drought that we might be looking at for the California central valley, for example.  What we’re probably going to be seeing as a result of all this are changes in land use practices.  There’s already a lot of high-quality dry farming done in this part of Colorado, particularly if you look at some of the wheat producers, and there are more existing dry farming techniques from other, more arid places, that could be introduced to the western slope.

Let’s get to some maps, now, because I’d like to show you those changes in agricultural zones while we’re thinking about it.  Now most of these maps are from the government reports, but let me show you that Colorado has been on my mind.  This is the cake my husband requested for his birthday, so when I had people write in asking for information on Fort Collins, Livermore, Red Feather Lakes, the Denver area, and the western slope, I had some concept of the geography.  But you can see that the maps I create, they just don’t have the level of detail we need, so let’s go over to something useful (1128).  There we go, there’s our projected shift in agricultural zones. 

Now check out the dates and the RCP on that map.  Those both indicate that this map is a little more extreme than what we can expect for 2050.  You’ll notice there are some major shifts in most of the states of this region, but let’s focus in on Colorado.  Overall, we see the least change in Colorado of all the states, and you’ll notice a crucial conservation here.  Most of Colorado will maintain its winter freeze.  You’ll have milder winters, but maintaining some degree of hard freeze, getting those chilling temperatures, as a Midwesterner I can certainly speak for how important that is for controlling insect populations and plant diseases.  And it speaks to the potential for conservation of those important current and traditional land use practices.

Now, let’s move away from this and look at current temperature changes (1108).  This map here shows how much hotter it has gotten in the last century or so, and here you really do see big changes that are impacting Colorado.  When I say that it’s gotten hotter, that it’s getting hotter, that is a serious part of our outlook for the state.  You can see on the western slope there you’ve got some of the most intense change in the region, and in some of our other areas where viewers wrote in, up by the Red Feather Lakes, Livermore, and Fort Collins, we have seen some striking increases in heat.  Not so bad by Denver, the mountains have that protective effect.  And let’s switch over to the projected temperature changes (1130).

Now on this map, we are in our 2050 time period, and we are looking at a map where we don’t make reductions in emissions.  So hopefully, these projections are on the high end, and I really think it’s fairly positive.  So look down at the key here before we focus in on reading the map.  This shows the increase in days over 90 degrees.  Our areas that have already heated up significantly, the western slope, that sort of north-central area, it looks like the worst of that heat-up might be over for the forecast period.  Don’t expect it to cool down, to get back to how it was in the 60’s, but it looks like also don’t expect it to get a lot worse.  That is not something I encounter all that often, that’s some good news!  And this map is also continued good news for the Denver metro area.  Denver, everyone knows you are beautiful and desirable metro area.  I gotta say, it is a real pleasure to show these maps and as I’m sure you can see, the main change you’re going to be looking at in the Denver metro area is slightly milder winters.  We’re all going to be impacted by the changes that are coming, but I think we should all be able to agree that it’s a real comfort when we look into the data, and we see that some nice places are going to stay nice.

Now, Colorado, you’ve had a lot of encouraging news in this forecast, so toughen up for a minute because I need to show you one quite serious projection.  And that’s related to your capacity to generate power.  (1125) As you can see in this map, much of your power generation capacity is going to lose a lot of productivity, 20 plus percent productivity, as we move towards 2050.  Those temperature increases are going to impact power generation, and it is time for a big power infrastructure upgrade for your state.  You wanna identify a sector that is both a challenge and an opportunity?  You got it right there, friends.  And you saw the maps for the rest of the Southwest.  You know things are looking at lot worse for your regional neighbors than they are for you.  So, like other places that are looking good in the forecast, get ready for some more people to move in!  You need a strong energy infrastructure, and I strongly suspect you need it for more people than you’ve got now.

So let’s wrap this up.  Colorado, you are looking at changes, you are looking at a need to shift land management practices, but I do believe you are looking at challenges you can handle.  Most of Colorado will still see cool enough temperatures to maintain familiar crops, plants, and landscapes.  In areas that have warmed and will warm more, there are existing dry farming techniques that can be adopted and utilized.  The drought trend for the Southwest is super real, but for you, you’re looking at more of an indirect hit.  You are on the edge of an area with a very challenging outlook, and you should be aware that will put a variety of strains on your infrastructure.  That includes of course water, there will be a lot of demand for that water in the upper Colorado basin, and there will also be strain on your power infrastructure.  Get that power infrastructure up to date, and I do believe the majority of folks in your state are looking at a very bright future. This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.