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Are We Talking Weather or Climate?

Mark Twain said, “Climate is what we expect, and weather is what we get.” And that’s a good way to summarize it, but I wonder what Twain would have said about climate change?

This summer was a great example of weather vs. climate. Remember June? Remember how lovely the cool, crisp days were and all that rain that brought us the greenest spring in years? It felt so unexpected and bountiful, so unlike our usual spring which tragically turns to summer in a mere week or so. Then came July and we paid our good weather debt from June with day after day of triple digit temperatures.

If we look at the daily temperatures for June and July, we can see why June seemed so cool to us and July felt extraordinarily hot. The National Weather Service calculates new 30-year norms every ten years. The norms in use now are an average of the temperatures from 1991 to 2020. These averages are what we expect will happen. This is climate. Let’s compare that with what actually happened – with the weather we got.

In June 2023, temperatures were 3.2ºF lower than average overall. The average daily high was 5.6ºF lower than average and the average daily low was a degree cooler. Doesn’t really seem like a lot when you average it over a month, but one third of those chilly June days were over 10ºF cooler than normal. That’s something we notice! Something we didn’t expect.

Now let’s look at July. It started off agreeably enough – the high on July 1st was 4ºF cooler than usual and the low was one degree from hitting the record low of 51ºF – but things got worse from there. On average, July was only 1.5º hotter than usual, but it included 20 days with above average highs – 15 of those days being more than 5ºF hotter than usual – and 13 days in the triple digits. July 18th and July 25th were 13ºF hotter than the average high at 105ºF and 106ºF, respectively.

Do June and July average each other out? Does a cool June offset a hot July so that we can conclude there is no climate change? No, of course not. Climate change must be examined on a larger scale. June’s and July’s weather is just what we got this year, but we need to look at how June’s and July’s weather has changed over a period of a couple of hundred years to see if the 30-year average is changing. And luckily, we can – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has created the “Climate-At-A-Glance” tool to allow us to look back all the way to 1895. If we look at Pueblo County, we see that the average temperature in July over the period from 1895 to 2023 is 73.8ºF. But July’s temperatures for nine of the last ten years – from 2014 to 2023 – were higher than that average. Significantly. Six of those ten years had average temperatures over 76ºF. Conversely only two of the ten years from 1895 to 1904 were higher than that average. That’s climate change. Overall, NOAA reports “Earth’s temperature has risen by an average of 0.14° Fahrenheit (0.08° Celsius) per decade since 1880, or about 2° F in total.”

So, what can we do about it? Climate change is due primarily to increased levels of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere due to fossil fuels, agriculture, and forest clearcutting. The Appalachian Mountain Club offers ten tips to lower your carbon footprint, including avoiding single-use-plastic, recycling, and reducing food waste. They also recommend paying attention to where your food comes from. Eating local foods cuts fossil fuel usage needed to transport produce from far away. Rather than buying a pineapple from South America, try eating peaches from the western slope. Most produce in the grocery stores have labels to let you know where it was grown. Even better, try growing your own veggies right at home. Salad greens, kale, carrots, peas, and cabbage are good choices for a fall garden that will grow right up to the first frost, which usually happens around October 5th in Pueblo County.


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