By 2069, parts of Montana can expect up to 39 more days above 90 degrees, participants in a recent webinar on climate change and other environmental issues said.
The League of Women Voters of Montana had a Zoom call on Wednesday to discuss extreme weather events in Montana with speakers from the Montana Climate Bureau and the Confederate Salish Kootenai Tribes.
The Montana Climate Office is an independent, state-appointed agency based at the University of Montana that provides science-based climate information and services.
Kelsey Jencso, a state climatologist with the Montana Climate Bureau, offered viewers a breakdown of where the state stands in terms of present and future climate conditions. In 2017, there was a first-ever climate assessment of Montana, which was done under the supervision of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems, Jencso said.
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He said Montana is a headwater state, saying the land area drains into the Columbia River, southern Saskatchewan and the Missouri River basins. Jencso said if you add it up, Montana’s headwaters drain into nearly a third of the land area of the contiguous United States. He added that what happens in Montana impacts not only the state, but also many downstream water users.
Jencso said Montana is really complex geographically in terms of climate and hydrology. He said this makes it difficult to predict future weather conditions and weekly forecasts. He said changing topography in mountain systems is impacting the distribution of precipitation in Montana.
He said the average annual temperature is 45 degrees, but as you move west into eastern Montana, you tend to see warmer conditions.
Jencso said that over the past 65 years Montana’s temperature has risen 0.42 degrees per decade compared to the national average of 0.26 per decade.
He said this is an increase of 2.7 degrees over the past 65 years, which is also higher than the national average.
He said the rate of change can be attributed to Montana’s higher elevation, which makes it more sensitive to temperature changes.
Jencso said the average rainfall is 18.7 inches and that hasn’t changed in the past 65 years.
He said there has been a 1.3 to 2 inch increase in spring rainfall in eastern Montana and a 0.9 inch decrease in western Montana, which has been linked to the frequency La Nina and El Nino events over the past 50 years.
Projections from global climate models and science are improving, but there is a degree of uncertainty, so projections need to be updated to assess potential changes in future climate. He said they used eight models for 2040-2069 to make predictions, adding that not all models agreed in every case.
Jencso said that by mid-century there will be a 5-degree rise in eastern and north-central Montana and a 4-degree rise in central and western Montana. He said these are the best estimates based on the best models. He said eight models were used for this report and 100% made the same prediction.
He said there should be 39 more days above 90 degrees in eastern Montana and 10 to 15 days in western Montana, due to the proximity of mountains and higher-altitude environments. altitude. There was 100% model agreement on these predictions.
There will be an increase of 5.3 degrees in winter and 6.4 degrees in summer, he said.
He said high temperatures will impact humans and crops and will have a drying effect on soils and forests. It will also lend itself to fire starts, he said. Jencso said large wildfires could also have public health effects.
He said the “good news” was that they expected a slight increase in rainfall, but it was low. He also said rainfall was difficult to predict. He said winter, spring and fall are expected to see an increase in rainfall and summer a decrease.
He said it was possible to have an impact on temperature changes, through changes in greenhouse gas emissions.
Regarding recent weather extremes, he said it was interesting that Montana went from very wet to very dry very quickly. He said there was a rich and abundant snowpack combined with atmospheric rivers, which are large conveyor belts of moisture that typically come from the tropical Pacific Ocean. That, combined with rain on snow earlier this year, caused catastrophic flooding that happened once every 500 years in the Yellowstone Basin.
He said atmospheric rivers can hold a lot of water, up to 15 times the volume of the Mississippi River at its outlet.
He said snowpack was 178% of normal on June 11 and there was 2 to 4 inches of rain from June 10-13.
The other strange weather event was the frequency of drought in Montana.
He said there was a need for more ground stations to facilitate observations to help make better forecasts for flood conditions or drought forecasts. He said 205 new stations will be added over the next five years under a $21 million contract provided through a US Senate bill to build better climate infrastructure. Station data is public and online.
Michael Durglo Jr., head of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) Historic Preservation Department and chair of the climate change advisory committee, said CSKT developed a plan in 2012 for the 1.3 million-acre reservation. acres in northwest Montana. He said the plan was being revised, based on new models, because what was thought to happen in 2060 is happening now.
Durglo said the Tribal Council passed a resolution that climate change is a risk to the tribe’s overall health and well-being and directs resources for climate change planning and mitigation.
“For me, that’s a big thing,” he said, adding that they’ve been working on climate change for a long time.
He said everyone is connected as a person, “we are connected to our animals, our land and our resources”.
Gwen Lankford, a CSKT climate change board member who also works with groups to improve communications, said some forecasts were nerve-wracking, like 39 more days of 90+ degree weather.
Lankford, who was to speak on resilience, social justice and equity, said many systems are vertically integrated or have power at the top. She said such systems are vulnerable to the consolidation of power, greed and resources.
She said such systems are not sustainable. Lankford called for horizontal integration, where everyone helps make it stronger and can tap into people’s strengths.
“It’s a really critical difference, I think, in terms of how we have to (revise) systems and how we have to think about moving forward and how we have to think about resources,” she said.
When it comes to climate change, Durglo said people need to be united.
“We’re all in this boat together and we all have to do our part and paddle the boat,” he said.
“We all need to do more,” Durglo said.
He asked people to help the next generation, adding “everyone get on a boat and grab a paddle”.
Jencso said people need to adapt better to change and science is key to this process.
At the start of the meeting, organizers said “well to the north” 120 people were attending online. Maureen McCarthy, teacher-researcher, facilitated the meeting.
Webinar co-sponsors included Citizens Climate Lobby; Climate-Smart Missoula; Families for a livable climate; the rise of the great falls; Montana Environmental Information Center; Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate; Wild Montana; Wilderness monitoring; and the League of Women Voters of Billings, Bozeman, Helena and Missoula.
The webinar will be posted at https://my.lwv.org/montana and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVDxqS88D9fMCaMvl3ze7gg?app=desktop.
Associate Editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.
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