Colorado Will Look Like a Different State by 2080

Colorado Will Look Like a Different State by 2080
A mountain meadow in Summit County, Colorado in 2021. (Photo: JASON CONNOLLY/AFP, Getty Images)

Colorado is going to become hotter, dryer, and a lot less skiable in just a few decades, according to new research.

The study, published in Earth and Space Science, used climate models to forecast the future of snow in Colorado, finding that the state is set to lose 50% to 60% of its snow by 2080, thanks to climate change-related drought conditions. Nearby states Wyoming and Utah are also likely to become less snowy and more arid, too.

The researchers used climate simulations from Earth System Models to project different drought conditions within the Colorado River Basin. By looking at how those conditions affected local watersheds, they found that the Green River, which flows through Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, is going to become especially dry.

The Colorado River is also going to see a decline in streamflow, they found. Both waterways receive some of their volume from melting snowpack every spring, so less snow in the area is going to result in less water feeding into waterways under the mountains.

“In some parts of Colorado, we will see a higher-elevation preservation of snowpack, because it is so high,” Katrina Bennett at the federal government’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico told The Denver Post. “Other areas like the San Juan Mountains were seen to be losing snowpack.”

This means that the regional agricultural industry is going to have to adapt. According to the Denver Post, the Colorado River supports agriculture for the nearby states the and feeds water into major cities, including San Diego.

As of last week, large areas of the state experienced some unusually dry conditions, while other areas showed signs of severe and even extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The state has used cloud seeding, the process of releasing silver iodide particles into the atmosphere to create ice particles, to stimulate snowfall. But as drought conditions out West worsen, cloud seeding isn’t enough to fill in the gap of snow needed to offset the dry conditions.

Ongoing drought is shaping water availability in other nearby states right now. Earlier this year, the California Department of Water Resources found that snowpack was only 2.5 inches deep, instead of its usual 1.52 m, in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe. A regular level of snow would have become water that would fill nearby reservoirs and rivers, which are currently running dry throughout the state.