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New report: How climate changes will affect the Northwest


A new climate report expects damage is “expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond.”

The National Climate Assessment released Tuesday emphasizes that warming and all-too-wild weather are changing daily lives, using the phrase “climate disruption” as another way of saying global warming.

There’s a whole section on the Pacific Northwest that KING 5 Meteorologist Rich Marriott has reviewed. He told KIRO Radio’s Morning News there aren’t too many surprises in the 840-page report, but scientists can now measure the changes. They’ve discovered those changes are increasing and happening more rapidly than they thought.

In the Northwest, Rich said, “the winters are going to be warmer and they’re going to be wetter. The net effect of that is that our mean snow levels, on average, will end up being higher. We’ll also see the summers start earlier and be warmer and drier.”

Marriott said the biggest effect listed in the report, and in earlier models, is the summer water supply will be low.

According to the report, Marriott said it’s predicted that by 2050, the average beginning of snow melt in the Cascades and Olympics will occur about three to four weeks earlier, which would not only affect water supply, but could potentially affect salmon runs.

Besides rising sea levels and coastal erosion, Marriott said increasing acidity in our oceans may cause problems.

“That will have impact on our coastal habitats, which include our fisheries along the coast.”

Marriott said the warmer temperatures are also affecting forests. He said pine trees are noticeably dying off in the interior of British Columbia. The report predicts new species will move in to our forests by 2040 and there will be major impact by 2080.

But thankfully, we’re in the Northwest with relatively larger water supplies and cooler temperatures.

“Western Washington is not a bad place to be with a warming climate, thanks to the fact that we have a very cold ocean sitting just offshore,” Marriot said. “It’s going to slow and moderate the effects.”

Marriott said the report suggests that even if humans stopped producing carbon dioxide and methane today, we’d still see the atmosphere warm probably for the next 100 years.

“But there’s a critical tipping point you hear talked about all the time where if you push the climate past a certain point, we’ll see gradual changes here, but it can make a drastic shift in the weather patterns.”

Marriott said that there have been periods of warmer and colder temperatures on Earth, but now we have seven billion people living on the planet and political boundaries.

“In the old days, people and animals migrated with the planet. It’s not possible now so we have more ramifications when the climate does change.”

The report, full of figures, charts and other research-generated graphics, includes 3,096 footnotes to other mostly peer-reviewed research. It was written by more than 250 scientists and government officials, starting in 2012. A draft was released in January 2013, but this version has been reviewed by more scientists, including twice by the National Academy of Science which called it “reasonable,” and has had public comment. It is written in a bit more simple language so people can realize “that there’s a new source of risk in their lives,” said lead author Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

The report looks at regional and state-level effects of global warming, compared with recent reports from the United Nations that lumped all of North America together.

“All Americans will find things that matter to them in this report,” said scientist Jerry Melillo of the Marine Biological Laboratory, who chaired the science committee that wrote the report. “For decades we’ve been collecting the dots about climate change, now we’re connecting those dots.”

The White House is highlighting that it’s not too late to prevent the worst of climate change as it tries to jump-start often-stalled efforts to curb heat-trapping gases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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