Colorado's ski industry, agriculture, transportation and water are all vulnerable to climate change, according to a joint report from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and area universities.
The 176-page report details how Coloradans are dealing with climate change already, and how it will affect the state in the coming decades. Thirty experts from state offices, consulting groups and academia reviewed the report commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office.
“Vulnerability is not just a question of how climate change will affect resources in the state, it’s also a question of how well Colorado is prepared to deal with changes,” said Eric Gordon, co-lead editor of the report and a researcher with the Western Water Assessment.
Longer and more intense droughts are likely across the state, so growing crops with irrigation is going to be "a little more difficult," said Gordon. Even cattle eat less during hot weather, which means ranching will probably be impacted as well.
Additionally, the report notes that public schools on the Front Range haven't needed to be air conditioned in the past. As temperatures rise, that change could be "expensive to address," says the report.
Below, more on four vulnerable state sectors:
- Water: The state’s reservoirs can provide some buffering against some expected increases in water demand and decreases in flow, but entities with junior rights or little storage are especially vulnerable to future low flows.
- Agriculture: Rising temperatures, heat waves and droughts can reduce crop yield and slow cattle weight gain. Colorado farmers and ranchers are already accustomed to large natural swings in weather and climate, but may find it especially challenging to deal with expected changes in water resources.
- Recreation: Climate projections show that Colorado’s springtime mountain snowpack will likely decline by 2050, with potential impacts on late-season skiing. Spring runoff season may also be earlier and shorter, which could affect rafting. But the recreation industry and some Colorado communities are already making changes that could help them adapt to a warmer future. For example, Telluride ski area now markets itself as Telluride Ski & Golf.
- Transportation: As temperatures increase, rail speeds must drop to avoid track damage, leaving the freight and passenger rail industries vulnerable to slowdowns or the need for expensive track replacements.
CPR's Michael de Yoanna contributed to this report.