Utah 2050 Forecast Script

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Utah!  I have to say, Utah is a very interesting state as we look towards 2050, lots of great communities in Utah with high degrees of preparedness.  Strong, interconnected, caring communities.  Let’s look at what changes you can expect in your home state, what sort of challenges you should be preparing for, and what opportunities might be used to your advantage.

Let’s look at our historic changes in temperature first, 1008.  Not much heatup so far in populated areas, but already we’ve been seeing this trend of increased heat in the Colorado plateau, and we’re going to see this continue to be a very impacted region.  Let’s check out our future heat projections.

So we’re going over to our USDA heat map, looking at 2050 on the RCP 4.5 emissions pathway, which I think is our most likely pathway, with moderately reduced emissions.  And we’re going to start, in this state, by looking at our most populated area, then zooming out to the rest of the state.


Summer heatup- in your populated areas, it’s not as bad as it could be.  We are looking at change, but you’ll see you should expect it to be moderate.  Most of the population here lives a bit up in the mountains, and if you’ve been watching this channel you’ll have noticed that not every mountain range is able to give protective effect.  Some of the mountains in Tennessee and Arkansas for example, they’re not being able to hold the cool summer, we’re seeing dramatic heatups projected for some mountain communities.  But this is great news for Utah, we’ve definitely got a protective elevation effect here. 

So anyone in this area who’s ever been to Sandy in the summer, a little lower in the valley there, that type of summer will be moving up the mountain.  Not insanely hot, not in a typical year, just a couple weeks longer of summer.

Looking out at the state as a whole, the worst impacted area is the southeast corner.  That’s going to become a more extreme desert environment than we’ve seen in the state before, here on the Colorado plateau.  And we can see that the desert is changing, there has been a lot of plant death there in the last ten years, and the heat even killed the biocrust, the microbial layer on top of the desert soil, that is so fragile and hard to establish.  So this is extreme and concerning.  And it’s a topic that really requires a shout-out to the people of Utah, who have been serious pioneers in desert soil restoration. 

For those of us who aren’t familiar with these fragile desert ecosystems, the surface of the desert soil is alive.  It’s made up of a delicate, interconnected layer of micro-organisms.  That’s why you should not walk off-trail in a desert park.  Your steps will kill the biocrust.  It can take hundreds of years to regrow, after say, someone runs one of those quads through a pristine desert environment.  So if you know the desert, when you hear that heat is killing the biocrust, you’re going to feel your gut clench up a little, you know? 

After these biocrust deaths, Utah has been working to do soil restoration, by transplanting healthy biocrust, healthy microbial communities.  This is so important.  Not only does it reduce air pollution- you’ll have way less dust, way less blowing particulates when you’ve got a healthy biocrust- but it is crucial for improving soil fertility.  There are a lot of very interesting plants and creatures that live in these extreme desert environments, many plants with extraordinary medical research potential.  The desert soil work Utah is doing, it’s so informed, and it’s so beautifully in opposition to the often cruel and primitive way we Americans have treated the desert soil, it really touched my heart to read about that good work.

It was extreme heat that killed the biocrust, a major heatwave, so let’s look at extreme heat projections.  Page 1130- This is fortunate, we can see little change in populated areas, little change in extreme heat up in the mountains here.  Very nice.  And we can see that the desert in the southeast corner, just, what is going to happen over there?  Something new, and I’m very glad the people of Utah care about the desert, because this is a place where something is changing, both dying and being born.  There’s a lot of work that will be need to be done with the involvement of the tribal nations of this area, and this is an area with a lot of indigenous people, many people connected with the Navajo and the Ute.  We all need to work together to try to figure out what is going on here, if we have any passed-down knowledge that may be relevant, and how we can maybe support, maybe contain, this desert transition that looks fairly alarming. 

With the trends we’re seeing, with my limited knowledge and perspective, I would worry about conversion to the type of desert where you have a lot of exposed dry and sandy substrate, and that blows around and really tends to spread the desert.  It can be hard to turn the clock back on that, fighting that type of desertification, conserving soil around the changing zone as much as possible, those are big challenges and they’re serious challenges.

            Now, we saw limited increased heat in populated areas, but it was there, so we of course want to check our energy outlook. page 1125.  And that’s nice news, isn’t it?  Utah, I see a lot more of these blue circles, indicating projected increases in energy production, up here in your state than I see anywhere else in the southwestern region.  You are expecting continued increases in population, so as you undergo your energy transition, you’ll want to keep up the good work.  But this is a nice outlook, some good local news.

            Now, let’s talk about the winter.  The winter is so important for this state, isn’t it?  The snowpack is crucial, 90 percent of your municipal water in populated areas comes from that snowpack, and so many wonderful landscapes and outdoors experiences come downstream from that snowpack.  We all know this is our big area of concern, so let’s look at the projections.

First, we’re looking at projected winter lows through the lens of plant hardiness zones.  HARDI So this change, it indicates that you will expect some retreat of landscapes, some changes in landscape moving up the mountains.  Let’s look at the new divide between zones 6 and 7, that’s your big shift in the most populated area of the state. 

So we can see where that’s moving, and if we’re prepared, I have a feeling you understand how important that is to our ability to respond.  I have to say, though, this is not too big of a change, should allow a lot of gardens to remain in good shape, probably talking about a small extension to the growing season. 

Zooming out, looking at the state as a whole, we see less change and less fragmentation of potential cooler habitat in Utah than in some other Southwestern states.  Nice. 

So, these projections, they don’t make me as concerned about the mountains’ potential ability to hold snowpack- not as dramatically concerned as I am for California’s Sierra Nevada range, say.  Let’s not be too rosy, there’s probable serious snowpack decrease by 2050, but a smaller proportion of that decrease is from fundamental temperature shifts than other mountain ranges.  The big concern is the drought.

The southwestern drought, this great drought that has come back to the region, that comes and kicks a lot of people out of the region in fairly regular cycles, over the period of hundreds of years, this drought is impacting Utah.  Drought is impacting cattle operations for example- both with concerns about forage, and concerns about water supply.  Only 14 percent of operations felt prepared for the drought 20 years ago, and it’s getting worse.  Virtually no one is prepared for a drought of this magnitude, and right now most of those prepared folks are probably being treated like they’re a little nuts.

Let’s take a minute and look at the snowpack this year:

2 snowpack sources


We can see, the snowpack is low, and we’re all concerned about that.  One of the first questions we ask of course, is where else can we get water?  How are the aquifers doing?

 With the snowpack likely to decrease, I took a deep look at the aquifers.  There’s a lot of evidence of careful analysis, careful decision-making going back forty years, alongside careful watershed management in this area going back well over a hundred years.  We have a high degree of knowledge through the USGS of how much water is in the aquifers, how much of it is fresh vs saline, and there is a lot of very good quality water in the aquifers of Utah.  Very pure, fresh water.

The state of Utah has made big efforts to use snowpack and surface water.  They’ve preserved that aquifer water very carefully, and very deliberately. 

I’m happy to say that looking over the historic data, water consumption hasn’t increased at the same rate as the population, suggesting that local water conservancy efforts and efficiency standards have been effective.  So we see evidence of the people of Utah treasuring water on every level, from state-level water use strategies to household use. 

Just as something to point out about the current system up in that most populated part of Utah.  The water districts, even nearby, are usually not connected to each other.  As we move into a drier future, you might want to think about broader water sharing strategies. 

So, big water message- Utah, you’re involved in the Southwestern drought.  You’re not right at the heart of it, but you’re involved.  You are dealing with water systems, though, which are less connected to the most severely impacted states- Nevada, California, and Arizona- than any other state in the region.  And that disconnect, that degree of water independence, that’s very protective.  No one is going to be able to take that aquifer water from you.  You’ve kept the groundwater safe, and the groundwater will keep you safe.

Utah is going to have to make tough water choices.  But Utah, you have a history of stewardship, of great care and quality care of water resources.  Watching this forecast, you should be proud of the century of work, care, and stewardship that has resulted in just fabulous aquifer condition at this crucial time, as we fear we may be approaching our hour of need in the west.

I know that the people of Utah have been in tough spots before, where they’ve dug in and made a good future out of very challenging conditions.  The people of Utah have the resilience needed for the changes that are coming.  And I believe that many of you are highly aware of these changes, and are getting ready.  I hope this video showed you some of the clear boundaries, where you can expect changes to come that will impact populated areas, and that it’ll help you refine your plans. 

Considering these factors- the relative mildness of impacts to populated areas, the level of community organization and resilience, the culture of home and community preparedness, your current and historic track record of water stewardship, Utah, I’m rooting for you.  I give your state the overall best outlook in the Southwest. 

Before I sign out, I want to share a great preparedness resource that’s been on my mind as I did research for this video.  And that is the food storage resources provided by the LDS church, their home storage centers.  Here’s the website, you’ll find this in the video description, too:


  Now, I’m not affiliated, I’m in fact very attached to my own faith community.  So I can tell you with assurance that this service is actually a community-friendly service.  This service, anyone in the community can use it.  It’s a religious space, of course, but I’ve not experienced any direct or intrusive proselytizing.  I’ve been treated kindly and fairly every time I’ve gone in to buy food for home storage.  You can get staple food for home storage in #10 cans at very reasonable prices, the food is of high quality, and it’s real food.  Like, you cook it, you eat it, you get some comfort, it’s not like dehydrated food. Imagine you’re a kid in a situation where your family is on stored food.  Someone serves you rehydrated chicken enchiladas for breakfast, you know you’re in an emergency.  You know in your body that things have gone seriously weird, right?  But imagine instead your family serves you a normal bowl of oatmeal, puts some honey on it.  That kid, they know in their body that it’s just a day. Maybe the work is going to be hard that day, but that kid isn’t going to experience that same gut-level sense of emergency.

If you have thought about laying in some food for long term storage, 30 year storage, this isn’t the sort of resource that gets highlighted on most channels.  I learned about it through interfaith networks, not, like, survivalist networks, you know?  And I think there’s a lot of merit in taking a calm, kind, community-based approach to preparedness, focusing on the quality of the home, the quality of your life, as we think about preparing for our best possible future.

Like I say, I’m not affiliated with the church, no one from the church has been anything but decent to me regardless, and this is my family’s go-to for affordable, healthy, real long term food storage.  Just wanted to share. And I do want to thank the Church, they do such a kindness with this resource, real act of chesed.  

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.