Nevada 2050 Forecast Script

2050 Climate Forecast, Nevada

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Nevada.  With this forecast, we’ll have completed our state-level breakdown of the Southwestern region- you should expect a ranked video in the next few weeks.  We’ll sum up what we’ve learned through these deeper dives, let you know the states with the best and worst outlooks, and we’ll be attempting to do it in a more edited, professional-looking video.

Nevada is looking at a rough ride.  Check out historical heatup, 1117, in the last hundred and twenty years we already see a warming hot spot in the state.  But now we’ll look into projections for the future. 

Let’s look at plant hardiness zones first, our proxy for winter lows.

HARDI We see a fair amount of shrinking of those cool winter mountain areas.  If we check out our more populated areas, get in close, we see relatively little change by Carson City and Reno, but down here by Las Vegas the winter warming looks like it will be close enough to feel it, if you know what I mean.

HEAT In the summer, we’re looking at amongst the most substantial projected heat increases we’ve seen.  The nature of the summer in the Carson City area you see, it’ll completely change.  You had been looking at a month or two of heat, now you’re projected to likely see a solid 3 months over 86.  If we check in over by Elko, we see that the summer cool held by much of that more mountainous area today, it’s just going to evaporate.  Sad to see.  Let’s look at Las Vegas.  It’s already got such a hot long summer that we’re not talking about adding months over 86 there, that’s good, maybe another week or two of hot summer in Las Vegas.

If we look at changes in extreme heat 1139, on top of those average trends we just looked at on the USDA map, we do see that fortunately, there aren’t huge extreme heat increases in your populated areas- Los Angeles and Tucson are examples of Southwestern cities that are going to see dramatically more days over 90, likely additional months more over 90, but you’re looking at a month max of additional very hot days projected in the more populated parts of Nevada.  

With that heatup, you’re going to want more power to keep the air on, and unfortunately 1134 Nevada is looking at substantial expected loss in power generation capacity without a solid infrastructure upgrade. 

All that heat, including warmer winters, it’s really going to increase the moisture demands of plant communities across the state.  So let’s check out the water outlook. 

Las Vegas, we know we’re fed by Lake Mead.  And Lake Mead is not looking good.

Las Vegas also gets 10% of its water from the aquifer, and the groundwater under Las Vegas, well, the more I learned the sadder it made me.  That groundwater has been terribly abused.  Las Vegas, it used to be a green meadow, a lovely oasis.  Not just on a human timescale, but for many tens of thousands of years.  It was a refuge, an oasis, for all sorts of life going back hundreds of thousands of years.  The aquifers under Las Vegas were fed by the snowmelt of three mountain ranges, and there was enough water that natural springs leapt out of the ground.  But pumping already made the Las Vegas springs run dry in the 1960s, and the deep aquifer continues to be depleted.  There are some scientists who think we’ve already pushed it too far, that there’s no way to recharge this aquifer on a human timescale, that we have destroyed this desert sanctuary.  Made me really sad to read about it.  But, back to the forecast. 

There is shallower groundwater in Las Vegas area that is quite salty, I couldn’t find that anyone is desalinating it at this time, as they are in Texas, but I imagine we will get there as the drought conditions squeeze the west.  The per capita use has really dropped in the last ten years, the people of Las Vegas are working to conserve water, but no matter what we do, it’s hard to see a future where we can sustain a population of the city’s size with the water we have in the area.  The urban growth in Las Vegas has been huge, and it looks like we’ve been writing checks we can’t cash.  If the drought trend continues like it’s expected to, well, there are models the city planners are using that show water resources being exhausted in the 2030s and 2040s.  I’m going to share a link to an article I really liked in the video description, it has a timelapse map where you can see the city grow and lake Mead shrink, it’s a real case of a picture being worth a thousand words.

If we look at Carson City’s water sources, we see a real diversity of water sources, which is protective, but the extent of the drought, we’re looking at reduced streamflow on almost all of them.  And not a little reduction, we’re talking like a 50%+ reduction.  But there is a lot going on to try and make a water plan, I want to share this link, you can find it in the description

Sharing the 2020 findings of a big collaborative team working on the water outlook for the area with University of Nevada Reno.

So, there are folks working on this, there are certainly lots of people who realize how serious all the water outlook is in this area, and they are having a hard time seeing a path forward at current population levels.  They’re still working, they’re still looking for solutions, but the general sense I got is that this is a really steep problem.     

Like in the California and Arizona forecasts, as I try and bind together the threads of the Nevada forecast, this is a situation where, if you’re not ride or die for the state, you should consider relocating.  And I don’t say that in most of my forecasts.  While there is space for a resilient future in this hotter, drier Nevada, and even by midcentury it’s projected to be much hotter and drier than it is today, we’re talking about resilience for communities that are smaller.  I don’t think the giant desert cities that bloomed in the 60s have a resilient future, they have been fundamentally extractive.  If you’re living an in area that developed based on assumptions of plentiful water from the Colorado River Basin, our assumptions just haven’t held out.  That water is not going to be available on the scale for which we built.

If you’re in a smaller community in Nevada, I’m sure you’re already looking hard at your water future.  That’s going to be the crux of your challenge, is if you can get a sustainable water supply.  And you’re going to want to get creative, look into dew nets, look into new forms of vertical water capture, because we anticipate surface water and groundwater to decrease until the drought eases.  That is likely to be on a generational timeline, we could easily have another 60 years of the drought ahead of us.

It’s a rough outlook.  But you’ve got time.  As of 2021, Las Vegas had 8 years of water banked.  The clock might start ticking sooner than we’d like.  If you’ve been on the fence about relocating, there are places with better outlooks in the Southwest- Utah in particular is overlooked- where we can learn to live resiliently and sustainably in these desert environments, and try to find ways to exist more lovingly with the land.

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.