Climate Change and Extreme Weather
Climate change is caused by a buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, are naturally occurring elements in the earth’s atmosphere. However, the extraction and burning of fossil fuels has led to an unnaturally high concentration of these gases in the lower part of the atmosphere. When the sun’s energy reflects off of the surface of the Earth, it gets trapped in this lower atmospheric layer containing the greenhouse gases instead of reflecting back into outer space. This causes the Earth’s surface to warm at unnatural levels, impacting the balance of many natural cycles on Earth. Extreme weather events, including severe heat, drought, frosts, erratic precipitation, ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires, have become more prevalent with rising greenhouse gases.
Colorado reached record breaking temperatures in 2020, leading to one of the driest years on record. Delta County is currently experiencing Exceptional Drought conditions, which is the most extreme category of drought, recognized by the United State Drought Monitor (see map on the right). Under Exceptional Drought, water stores are weakened and soils become dehydrated as dust storms and loss of topsoil are increasingly widespread. These environmental conditions effect landscape aesthetics, agricultural productivity, and recreational opportunities, which all impact economic conditions.
To learn more about how human development activities contribute to the Greenhouse Effect please visit NASA’s webpage on climate dynamics.