Montana Climate Assessment: impacts to drought, fire, and water - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Montana Climate Assessment: impacts to drought, fire, and water resources

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Major highlights

  • Annual average temperatures have increased 2.0-3.0° across the state between 1950 and 2015
  • Montana is projected to warm by 4.5-6.0° by mid-century
  • Precipitation is expected to increase in winter, spring, and fall
  • Precipitation is projected to decrease in summer, increasing probabilities of drought and wildfires

The Montana Institute of Ecosystems released the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment on Wednesday, a scientific assessment of Montana's changing climate, two years in the making.

University researchers and students, state and federal researchers, nonprofit organizations, tribal colleges and citizens helped create the assessment.

It confirms what many have feared for years: Montana is warming at an alarming rate.

The assessment states Montana has warmed 2.0-3.0° since 1950, and it's projected that temperatures will warm an additional 4.5-6.0° by mid-century. The state-level changes are expected to be greater than national and global temperature changes.

Researchers say average winter precipitation decreased in recent years and point to El Niño as one reason for the change.

In the future, precipitation is expected to increase in winter, spring, and fall. The largest increases are expected in spring over southern Montana.

Summer precipitation is expected to drop, mainly over central and southern areas of the state.

The assessment also details impacts to the state's forests, agriculture industry, and water resources.

Increasing temperatures will reduce the snowpack and shift historical streamflow patterns.

This is expected to create additional stress on water supplies statewide, particularly during summer and early fall.

Researchers say climate change could increase forest mortality, outpacing gains in forest growth.

Wildfires are an annual concern for Montanans, and climate change is ultimately expected to increase the fire risk. Experts say the size, frequency, and severity of wildfires could increase significantly.

Farmers and ranchers will feel the effects, too.

Decreasing streamflows will put a strain on irrigation capacities each growing season, impacting hay, sugar beet, malt barley, market garden, and potato production.

The distribution and frequency of winter annual weeds will threaten winter wheat croplands and rangelands. Researchers say this result in decreased crop yields and forage productivity.

Click here to visit the Montana Climate Assessment website.

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