Climate Skeptic Part 5: How Does Climate Change Affect Idaho?
Part 5 of 7 – Continued From Part 4
Authors: Amber Bieg, Deb LaSalle, Zach Bell, Heather Colwell, Kevin Winslow, Jay Schuyler, Alaina Sisco, Mitch Samson
How Does Climate Change Affect Idaho?
The scientific consensus is that a warming of 2 degrees Celsius is unavoidable and that without action we are heading for a 4-degree change within this century. What does this mean for Idaho? It means big extremes: Hotter summers and wetter, and in some places snowier, winters – or more severe droughts. In whichever direction – it’s more extreme.
In Idaho’s Treasure Valley, we typically see 15 days in the summer with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees. It’s forecasted that within the next two decades, we’ll see more than 60 days with temperatures exceeding 90. This change increases overall health, wellbeing, and energy costs. As of July 26, 2022 has seen 17 days with degrees above 100 degrees Fahrenheit – 4 days short of the 2003 record of 20 days. The average number of summer days in Boise with degrees in the triple digits has gone from only a couple of days to now we are seeing more than 2 weeks on average.
The winter of 2016-17 saw a slight shift in the jet stream, which picked up warm moisture from the Pacific, then hit cold air from a northern polar vortex. In Idaho’s Treasure Valley, this resulted in what weather experts called “snowmageddon.” By Jan. 5, 2017, Boise had seen more than 23 inches of snow. That year, the entire region experienced weather anomalies (such as heavy snow, followed by rain, and hail), followed by floods. Idaho Counties Risk Management Program (ICRMP), the state’s insurance program for public infrastructure, used more than 30 percent of its reserves on repairing damage related to these extreme weather events. At the time, the ICRMP director reported that if Idaho experienced just two more seasons with similar weather anomalies, the program would be bankrupt.
Three years later, Boise’s reported snowfall was a mere 3.8 inches by Jan. 5, 2020. This made for an overall lack of snowfall in 2018 and 2019 and, with record high temperatures in December 2019, left Idaho with a major water deficit.
In 2018, Idaho Power, the state’s largest public utility, acknowledged that not only was climate change happening and human-caused, but it also posed a significant risk to the company’s future operations. As a conservative and heavily regulated enterprise, Idaho Power had never before publicly acknowledged climate change. However, that year, the company made a pledge to develop a Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Because Idaho Power is heavily dependent on yearly snowpack for hydroelectric power generation (which makes up 41 percent of its generation), using climate model forecasts is highly strategic. Since then, the company has begun to report to the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD), publicly acknowledging the economic risks of climate change, and making commitments to mitigating GHG emissions. They also have committed to 100 percent clean energy by 2045.
While the transition to low-emissions energy sources isn’t easy, it makes sense in the long term. Idaho Power isn’t alone in these commitments: Nearly all of Idaho’s largest companies have made similar goals. Micron, Simplot, HP, and others all have started to measure the risk and impacts of climate change on their operations and set emissions reduction targets.
In March 2017, more than 600 people attended the Idaho Climate Hearing at the State Capital. Later in 2017, Idaho’s business and political leaders hosted a two-day summit called Safeguarding Idaho’s Economy in a Changing Climate: Idaho Climate Summit, where nearly 600 Idaho businesses and industries participated in a solutions-oriented conversation. This ultimately resulted in the Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment.
Led by the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy, more than 100 researchers and business leaders from across Idaho came together to produce the Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment published in Spring 2022. The key findings from the Idaho Economy Impacts Assessment are:
- Idaho’s climate is changing
- Idaho is projected to experience increasing temperatures, changes in precipitation, and decreasing snowpack.
- Precipitation patterns will vary across the state. There likely will be increasing precipitation in the winter and early spring, mainly in the form of rain, as well as decreasing summer precipitation.
- An increase in rain-on-snow events is likely. Rain on top of snow leads to increases in floods and land/mudslides.
- Idaho will experience increases in extreme weather events, including drought, floods, and wildfires.
- Changes in climate will impact Idaho’s major economic sectors.
 Yale Climate Connections. 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius of additional global warming: Does it make a difference? Aug 4, 2021
 ICRMP. Interview. May 25, 2017
 KTVB. 3 years after Snowmageddon, the Treasure Valley experiences an abnormally dry and warm winter. Jan 7, 2020
 Idacorp. 2018 Sustainability Report. 2018