Climate change

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Researchers at the University of Wyoming are developing and testing a computer model that predicts wildfire growth.

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. 

In June of 2002, nearly half a million acres burned in the Arizona high country. At the time, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire was the largest wildfire in the state’s history. There was too much fuel in the forest, a buildup that began more than a century ago. Enough people saw the record-breaking fire and agreed that something needed to be done to prevent the next big fire.

On the side of a rocky hill in Sheridan County in northern Wyoming, Brain Mealor is showing off all of his weeds.

“Here, let me grab a cheatgrass so you can see it, too,” he said, plucking a wispy sprig from among the grasses. “They all kind of look the same this time of year.”

Mealor is the director of the University of Wyoming’s Research and Extension Center in Sheridan. He’s performing experiments on how to manage and kill invasive annual grasses, like cheatgrass, ventenata and medusa head, with herbicides.

For many communities in the West, the water that flows out of kitchen faucets and bathroom showerheads starts high up in the mountains, as snowpack tucked under canopies of spruce and pine trees.

This summer’s record-breaking wildfires have reduced some of those headwater forests to burnt trees and heaps of ash. In high alpine ecosystems, climate change has tipped the scales toward drier forests, lessened snowpack, hotter summers and extended fire seasons.

Major wildfires have burned through the Western U.S. in 2020, breaking records for their scale and damage. As firefighters tamp down their immediate effects, those who live nearby are coming to grips with the lingering danger of wildfires. Even long after the flames are gone, residents face a serious increase in the threat of flooding.

National Park Service hydrologist Erin White likes to call Yellowstone “America’s first water park.”

It’s home to the headwaters of multiple major rivers and hundreds of waterfalls. Thousands of geysers, mudpots, and hot springs—heated by an underground supervolcano—gush, bubble, and boil in the national park’s 2.2 million acres, too.

William F. Wood via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Environmental groups have issued an intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if the agency does not put the proposal to put wolverines under Endangered Species Act protections back on the table.

A recent report card on climate change education in public middle and high schools across the U.S. ranked Wyoming at the top of the class with a solid A. The rest of the Mountain West was mixed.

Drought.gov

A $48 million project will fund climate monitoring stations across the Upper Missouri River Basin in five states, including Wyoming.

Chip Redmond

Every four years there's a near universal complaint that western issues get passed over in presidential elections. Not this year, which is mostly because large swaths of the West have been burning.

Firefighters have long studied how fires behave to figure out where they’re going and how to keep people safe. But wildfires are becoming more unpredictable.


On a frosty early August morning, Jordan Harrison and Corey Anco packed for a day of off-trail hiking in the Beartooth Mountains. Anco is the Draper Natural History Museum assistant curator and Harrison is a field biologist for WEST, Inc.

Large numbers of migratory birds have reportedly dropped dead in New Mexico and Colorado.

There’s still confusion over the deaths, like how many died and what exactly killed them. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes the bird deaths in Colorado and New Mexico were caused by an unusual cold front.


The Mountain West has seen plenty of wildfires this year, but nothing like the catastrophic large fires still burning along the West Coast. That's largely thanks to a relatively wet spring.

Many communities in the West are growing, and in some places that’s putting pressure on already scarce water supplies.

That’s the case in northern Colorado, where a proposed set of reservoirs promises to allow small suburbs to keep getting bigger. The project, called the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), has stirred up a familiar debate over how the West grows, and whether water should be a limiting factor.

Oscar Vilca

A new study suggests that glacial lakes are growing as the earth's temperatures increase.

The Science Behind Utah’s Big Wind Storm

Sep 10, 2020

The wild winds that swept across Northern Utah Monday and Tuesday were caused by a storm system and cold front that came down from Canada, according to Meteorologist Christine Cruz with the National Weather Service.

The system, which brought unusually strong winds, made its way through the central plains of the U.S. and into the Wasatch Front, she said.

“It was a very cold air mass behind that front and we were very warm ahead of it,” Cruz said. “We were in the 90s to even 100s ahead of it, and this air behind it was in the 30s and 40s.”

Bernard Spragg

A study by the Bureau of Reclamation predicts that the current water levels in the Colorado River Basin will only postpone water shortages.

Brocken Inaglory / (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As August comes to an end, conditions are ripe for potential fires.

Many counties and federal agencies have issued fire restrictions throughout the state due to the prime fire conditions: hot, dry and windy.

Matthew Lachniet

Caves in Nevada can tell scientists about the history of the climate in the West and what it might look like in the future.

No, it's not a sci-fi movie. A fire tornado touched down near the Nevada-California border Saturday, during the Loyalton Fire about 25 miles west of Reno, Nev.

There's an effort afoot to better identify heat waves – like the one gripping much of the American West right now.

J. David Ake/AP


A new analysis by the Great Plains Institute and the University of Wyoming describes possible steps that industries in the U.S. can take to lower their carbon dioxide emissions. They propose using carbon capture technology and transportation infrastructure that moves the carbon dioxide to storage locations underground.

K Kendall

Most of the West has been experiencing drought this year. Bart Miller, with the environmental group Western Resource Advocates, said that the water levels we are seeing this year are nothing new.

United States Drought Monitor / National Drought Mitigation Center

A new report shows extreme drought throughout the Bighorn Mountains.

The latest data from the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center shows most of Wyoming is experiencing some level of drought. That ranges from moderate drought in the south and some eastern parts of the state to severe drought in the central region.

Alan Wilson

Polar bears have been endangered for years, but a new study finds that without a decrease in greenhouse gas emission, almost all polar bears will die by 2100.

Elizabeth Abramson, Dane McFarlane, Jeff Brown

The Great Plains Institute and the University of Wyoming have published a new analysis on carbon capture and storage.

Micha de Vries

A new study finds that rural westerners care about the environment just as much as people in cities.

Photos courtesy of DEQ

As the summer season ramps up, so does the possibility of Harmful Cyanobacteria Blooms (HCBs). Also known as blue-green algae, cyanobacteria are found in many bodies of water worldwide. They're normally harmless, but when their growth explodes and forms a bloom, they can release toxic chemicals into the water around them. They can cause symptoms in people ranging from skin irritation to liver damage, and they can be deadly to animals.

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