Colorado's warming trend since 1970: A new look at a 40-year heat wave

You don't have to be steering a helitanker into the High Park fire to know that things are a bit toasty across Colorado these days. Drawing any conclusions about climate change, though, from a bout of unseasonable weather is a tricky business. Which is why a new report from Climate Central charting a century of average temperatures across the United States -- and a dramatic acceleration of warming trends since 1970 -- is worth checking out.

The report finds that, over a century-long window, a few states showed little or no shift in temperature. But since 1970, every region of the country has shown a marked increase in temperature -- a rate overall that's nearly triple the previous decades -- "coinciding with the time when the effect of greenhouse gases began to overwhelm the other natural and human influences on climate at the global and continental scales," the report finds.

States in the Southwest, including Arizona and New Mexico, and the Upper Midwest seem to have particularly hit hard. But over the past 42 years seventeen states have warmed by more than half a degree Fahrenheit per decade. Colorado's pace was only slightly lower; overall, we weigh in as the 20th fastest-warming state, as depicted in this map accompanying the report:

As the report's authors point out, the climate picture looks slightly different depending on what time frame you're dealing with. Taking the century-long view, many states didn't experience any kind of statistically significant shift in temperature at all. But over that same time period, Colorado emerges as one of the top ten fastest warming states -- and that's one top ten list nobody wants to be leading.

More from our Environment archive: "John-Paul Maxfield and Waste Farmers are growing a business based on ending waste."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast