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UNLV expert: Climate change means a hotter, drier southern Nevada

Climate Change Local Impact

Professor Matt Lachniet spends hours looking for clues. This Thursday, he shows us samples in his laboratory of stalagmites from Nevada caves. Some are thousands of years old, pointing to a time when this desert was actually hotter and drier, which coincides with a time when the oceans we now call the Pacific and the Arctic were warmer.

It's the same pattern we’re seeing again, Lachniet says.

“The reason that this is important is that it tells us that climate – climate is capable of producing even drier conditions,” he says. “Our trajectory very confidently is going to be warmer and drier, and there are a lot of reasons for that, but number one, when temperature goes up, there’s just less water available. It’s pretty clear there’s not any other direction we can go.”

Lachniet says nature also plays a part as the orbit of the Earth gradually shifts over thousands of years, tilting sections of our planet more directly toward the sun. He says that is one cause of warming.

“If humans were not controlling the climate in any way, that would still be true, because the way that the earth’s orbit has changed influences climate in Nevada, and we’re on a trajectory to more warming even if humans were not controlling the climate. So what we have is, we have a natural trend towards warming and drying, and then a human-caused trend that adds on top of that,” Lachniet says.

We meet about a week after the federal government released its climate report stating climate change has the potential the wreak havoc on the United States.

“The projections for the future of the Southwest is it's gonna get hotter and it's gonna get drier, and these two go hand-in-hand in the Southwest,” says Lachniet “So we might be looking at 10 to 30 more days of 90 degree-plus temperatures per year.”

So far in 2018, Las Vegas has seen 150 days of 90 degrees-or-above, which is eight days short of the record, according to KSNV Meteorologist Kevin Janison.

In Southern Nevada, dry is not good. We're watching our principal source of water wither.

Lake Mead sits today at 1,078 feet above sea level. When it drops 3 more feet, water managers will declare a "shortage," cutting deliveries to states on the Colorado.

That river depends on the Rockies, and the snow that melts.

Some good news: this winter may bring more storms and snow.

“Definitely has a different look than last year, so we're a little more hopeful that we'll see better conditions than we saw last year,” says Greg Smith, the senior hydrologist at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Southern Nevada's changing climate not only affects us, but also the creatures that live with us.

“One study that came out recently showed a shocking 50 percent decline in bird abundance in the Mojave Desert in 40 years. That means for people who have kids right now, their kids are seeing half the birds they saw when they were children,” says Patrick Donnelly, with the Center for Biological Diversity.

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