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KUNR Public Radio is a proud partner in the Mountain West News Bureau, a partnership of public media stations that serve Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming. The mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues of the Mountain West.

Mountain West In Climate Crosshairs As 2020 Heats Up

An ominous smoke cloud fills the sky in Wyoming
Greg Sanders
The Mullen Fire, one of the biggest wildfires in the region, has burned more than 175,000 acres in the Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming and Colorado.

Drought, wildfire and record-breaking heat are all part of the current climate landscape in the Mountain West. 

It’s a triple whammy that’s expected to continue into the coming months. 

Aside from New Mexico, all states in the region experienced above-average temperatures in September. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials, 2020 has a pretty good shot of turning in the hottest year ever.  

Extreme drought persists across Nevada, Utah and Colorado. Those conditions are helping fuel some of the largest wildfires in our region’s recorded history.  

“Everybody that may not think they are being directly impacted by the drought, if you had days where you couldn’t go outside because the smoke was so thick, that is partially due to drought that has helped these wildfires grow,” said Becky Bolinger, a climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center.  

The Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado is the biggest fire in state history at over 200,000 acres. In Wyoming, the Mullen Fire has burned over 175,000 acres. Both fires have contributed to poor air quality along the Front Range.

Drought conditions are expected to continue throughout the region into the fall and winter. 

“What we see today is what we kind of saw coming 10 or 20 years ago, and what that suggests for the future is we’re gonna see things get worse – drought intensifying, fires more severe and widespread,” said Waleed Abdalati, the director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.  

Idaho and Montana may see some relief. This year’s La Niña is forecasted to bring above-average snow and colder temperatures to both of those states.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Beau grew up listening to public radio on the Palouse. He is a former host, reporter, producer and engineer for Montana Public Radio in Missoula. As a reporter, he is interested in stories that address issues and perspectives unique to living in the West.
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