Utah's climate is changing, how will it affect the state?

Utah's climate is changing, how will it affect the state? (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV)- "It's real, it's happening and it affects the way we will live in the future" meteorologist Sterling Poulson said Thursday evening.

Freezing temps, record snow totals, and a bomb cyclone. The country has been hit with powerful winter storms this year, but Utah remains rather dry.

Poulson says, for Utah, this means anything could happen. "Bigger storms, warmer temps, and it will impact you."

Utah Climatologist, Robert Gillies, says we are seeing climate changes globally and the warming arctic means the jet stream has moved north, leaving Utah with fewer storms coming through.

But, that doesn't mean Utah is seeing less water. Gillies says Utah is seeing more precipitation, but more of it is coming as rain rather than snow, even in the winter months. This can bring problems: rain falling on frozen ground can mean flooding, and frozen ground also means the water isn't absorbed into the aquifer. Gillies says that translates to less water for use during record-breaking, dry, summer heat.

Gillies also says the changing weather means changes in the food we eat. "We get lots of runoff, floods the fields, and they can't plant," Gilles said.

Cache Valley farmer, Keith Meikle, says this is exactly what happened last year. He says, even though the warmer weather means a potential long growing year, Utah farmers aren't able to capitalize on that. Wet springs push back planting, and are followed by hot and dry summers, which make it difficult to keep the plants alive.

"We never see an average year or what our grandfathers told us or what our fathers told us what is an average year, those are gone," Meikle said.

Utah saw drastic climate swings just last spring. A freeze weeks after Mother's Day destroyed many crops like peaches and cherries, causing higher prices for what did make it to the grocery store. Meikle said this devastation carries catastrophic consequences for farmers' livelihoods.

"You stack that on top of the prices being depressed, and you just lost everything on that crop," said Meikle.

Meikle said there doesn't seem to be a break in the difficulties of agriculture due to the changing climate.

"There isn't a farmer that I know of that doesn't believe in climate change," Meikle said. "When Mother Nature is yanking the rug out from underneath you, you know, it's a really hard life to live."

So, long term, what can Utah do to address the climate change with the growing needs for water in our state? It's something the Governor has been investigating since 2013. He released a 200-page suggestion report last summer including everything from funding research and conservation to infrastructure to collect water.

Sterling Poulson has more on the story above.

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