How Climate Change will Transform GJ by 2070

Finn Witham, Editor

As the climate crisis has accelerated in the 21st Century, most media coverage of it has focused on the global scale: macro temperature increases, melting ice caps, changing oceans, and extreme weather events. While these effects of climate change are important, such coverage causes many people to view climate change as something distant and futuristic without understanding the impact it could have on their daily lives. 

So, in order to demonstrate how climate change could actually affect your life, I want to demonstrate what life could look like in future Grand Junction if we do not make any effort to cut current greenhouse gas emissions. 

Currently, Grand Junction is an arid, cold desert. This means we have dry conditions year-round, but generally have colder temperatures in the winter. National Geographic data found that, with unaddressed climate change, the Grand Junction of 2070 will continue to be an arid, cold desert. However, typical weather conditions could look very different than they do today. 

Take a typical winter day. Currently, Grand Junction’s winter highs peak at around 41°F and get down to about 19°F at night. However, with climate change, National Geographic reports that winter highs will reach 49°F (with lows at 29°F) by 2070. This is an almost 10°F climb. And, in addition to rising temperatures, winter precipitation is expected to rise from its current 1.8 inch average to 2.3 inches. Taken together, this means that Grand Junction winters could be much warmer (almost never reaching freezing temperatures) making the higher precipitation more likely to be rain than snow. In arid Grand Junction, this could lead to rising amounts of flash floods as winter storms wash away dry soil as rain, rather than providing needed moisture as snow, harming local houses, agriculture, and wildlife. 

This may not sound that catastrophic to many. Aside from the rising threat from flash floods and less snow, so what if winters are a bit less cold and it rains more than it snows? Well, beyond these cold-season changes, Grand Junction summers could be much, much worse by 2070. National Geographic reports that precipitation likely won’t rise much in the summer (only a 0.2 inch increase). However, temperatures will climb: by 2070, average summer highs will go from their current level of 90°F to 101°F, with average lows rising from 59°F to 68°F. This means that, even in June and late August, we could be seeing daily highs above 100°F. In fact, Grand Junction currently has two days on average where temperatures rise above 95°F. By 2070, it will likely have 43 such days on average. 

This extreme summer heat will exacerbate arid conditions in Grand Junction, making water resources more scarce and drying out soil and vegetation. This could have a major impact on agriculture, a major industry in the Grand Junction area. “Business Times” reported that, in 2017, Mesa County’s agricultural industry produced a $94 million output. Such an economically and socially vital industry will feel the heat as land becomes harder to farm and less water is available for irrigation. Even individuals could struggle as water resources drive up utility bills.

But the effects go beyond heat. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that “[h]igher temperatures and drought are likely to increase the severity, frequency, and extent of wildfires in Colorado.” Already over the past decade, wildfires in Colorado and the western US at-large have caused mass-evacuations, destruction of property, and, as Grand Junction residents can testify, poor, smoke-induced air quality. Most recently, a fire in late 2021 raged through a drought-ridden Boulder County, destroying thousands of homes and buildings. In 2070, Grand Junction may not just be hot, it could be on fire. 

Additionally, increasing drought conditions in Grand Junction may not just be caused by local weather and precipitation patterns, but larger state trends. The EPA reports that in Colorado “snowpack has decreased since the 1950s, due to earlier melting and less precipitation falling as snow.” This could exacerbate water availability concerns, while also damaging mountain ecosystems and shortening the season for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. 

Putting this all together, an image develops of a future Grand Junction. Stepping outside in January 2070, you may not need quite so heavy a coat as you look out on a Grand Mesa whose white peaks are much smaller and much higher. Permanent ice and snow may be replaced by heavy rainstorms that make phones and TVs blare with flash flood warnings. In the summer, you may not even want to step outside, as smoke and ash could blanket the valley and temperatures could soar above 100°F. Drought could make water and food scarce, making groceries and utilities more expensive. 

This picture is bleak, but it is necessary to confront. Climate change is not just about polar bears and oceans, it’s about your home, your food, your water, and your life. Even if 2070 seems far, many of you will still be in your 60s, which isn’t all that old. Even if you don’t plan on staying in Grand Junction, climate change will affect localities everywhere. If you don’t want to live in the future described, we as a society have to change the way we live. Otherwise, all of our lives in the following decades will be forcibly–and dramatically–disrupted.