An Overview of the Climate of the Rocky Mountains

The Rocky Mountains, one of the main mountain systems within Western North America, has a climate which is becoming warmer and drier across its massive surface. Commonly referred to as the Rockies, the mountains extend from the southwestern United States, through New Mexico, to Northern British Columbia in Canada. There are five regions, including the Northern Rockies in the United States and the Rocky Mountain system of Canada.

Heavy Rains

The Midwest of the United States, which includes portions of the Rocky Mountains, has seen an increase in the size of its storms over the last 51 years, as outlined in the report released May 16, 2012 by the Natural Defense Council. Titled Doubled Trouble: More Midwestern Extreme Storms, the report includes a table on the frequency of storms by size in the Midwest between 1961 and 2010. Three-inch-plus storms increased by 103 percent over the time period, while one to two-inch storms increased by 34 percent.

The report argues that the storms are linked to increases in flooding in the area. Human-caused climate changes may be linked to more extreme precipitation.

Rise of Temperatures

While the Rockies are diverse, with various ecosystems and industries across its vast area, the rise of temperatures is a climate feature across the regions. In Nevada and Utah, at least one-third of the American pikas (a relative to the rabbit) have disappeared in the last century due largely to warming trends under which the species cannot survive. Pikas cannot survive outside of their dens in temperatures over 27 degrees Celsius for more than a few hours, according to the World Watch Institute.

The warming trend continues through the winters in the Rocky Mountains. The northern Rockies, for example, have 15 to 30 percent less moisture in the spring snowpack than they did in the 1950s. The World Watch Institute also reports that the average temperature since 1922 has increased by 1.6 degrees Celsius for Montana’s Glacier National Park. As well, rainfall in this area of the Rocky Mountains has increased, while snow levels decreased, and winter lows are higher than in the past too.

Risks of Wildfires

With the warmer climate of the Rocky Mountains, there are increased risks of wildfires in the West. Between 1987 and 2003, the World Watch Institute reports that the amount of fires in the Rocky Mountains increased by 400 percent! The warm air combined with dry conditions help account for the increase of wildfires. Due to the climate changes, many invasive plants and insects are at risk of invading the areas.

The Climate Changes

The climate changes of the Rocky Mountains are causing serious issues throughout its diverse regions. Warmer temperatures, increased precipitation in the winters, and dryer areas in the West all are part of the climate overview in the Rockies.