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Earth scientist: Warming in the Greater Yellowstone region will impact future water supply

 A crosscountry skier in Yellowstone National Park.
Nate Hegyi
A crosscountry skier in Yellowstone National Park.

An earth scientist is warning that warming temperatures in the Greater Yellowstone region will have major impacts on the area’s water supply.

Montana State University paleoecologist Cathy Whitlock is the co-author of the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment. At a talk last week on Climate Change in The Watersheds of Greater Yellowstone, Whitlock said an increase of the mean annual temperature by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950 has changed the timing of when precipitation in the region occurs.

“What we’re seeing is winter and summer are receiving significantly less precipitation than they used to in 1950, and on the other hand spring and fall are getting wetter,” she said.

Whitlock said in the mid-twentieth century snow was the main form of precipitation in elevations higher than 7,000 feet. In the coming years, the ratio of snow to rain in the Greater Yellowstone area is expected to shift.

“It’s getting warmer and warmer and instead of snow we’re going to get slush, and we’re going to get rain,” she said.

To lessen impacts on Montana’s snowpack and future water supply, Whitlock recommends officials resurrectMontana’s Climate Solutions plan, which outlines steps for Montana to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.