Global warming could put Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states' water supplies at risk.

According to analysis from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 15 of the last 16 warmest years on record have come since 2001.

Noah Diffenbaugh is an associate professor at Stanford and senior author of a report on how warming can affect snowpack. He says if temperatures continue to rise, western states could see diminishing water supplies.

"As more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow, and as more of the snow that does fall melts earlier in the winter and spring, that has big implications for water storage," said Diffenbaugh.

Snow is important for Rocky Mountain states in particular, because it forms its own reservoir. When snow melts gradually, lower areas get water during the spring and summer growing seasons when demand is at its peak.

But Diffenbaugh says global warming is upsetting this convenient balance. He says once-permanent snowfields are disappearing in the Rockies, which could have severe consequences.

"Not only is there less water available during the summer for people and agriculture, but also the ecosystems are stressed," said Diffenbaugh. "We know that the wildfire risk is elevated."

Not only could land managers see more fires earlier in the year, a loss of snow would impact food sources for wildlife. Diffenbaugh says native trout that depend on a steady flow of cold water in the summer could face extinction.

Rich Denison, Townsquare Media
Rich Denison, Townsquare Media

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