Climate and its Impact

Climate is defined as: “long-term average weather conditions for a given geographic area or region”¹ and it is measured through temperature and precipitation. A region’s climate is determined through the presence of the five components of a climate system: atmosphere, hydrosphere [liquid water], cryosphere [frozen water], land surface, and biosphere [living organisms].² 

Utah has an arid climate with hot summers and cold winters and little annual precipitation, about 11 inches statewide. The mountains divert much of the state’s precipitation which, in the Wasatch Mountains, averages around 50 inches annually.³

Mt. Olympus in the winter. Image taken by Katy Roach.

Due to the variety of climates on earth and climate changes that have occurred in the past, there is great diversity of life on earth as humans and other living organisms adapt to the climate they live in.

Climate change is defined as, “the warming of the earth and changing of weather patterns because of changes in the composition of the atmosphere”. In the last 800,000 years, earth’s climate has gone through eight cycles of ice ages and warmer periods. These climate changes are attributed to small variations in earth’s orbit that ultimately change the amount of solar energy earth receives.

The current warming we are experiencing is occurring at a much faster rate than previous changes and is believed to be the result of human activities since the Industrial Revolution (early 1800s). These changes are due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations from activities like burning fossil fuels. Greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide all trap radiation from the sun and cause earth’s surface and air temperatures to rise. Changes in temperature are occurring more rapidly in areas that are farther from the ocean, such as Utah. Climate change itself is not a natural hazard, but it can affect and amplify the impacts of many natural hazards such as avalanches, dam failure, drought, flooding, landslide, and wildfire.


Ski traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

For example, warmer temperatures cause more rain to fall on earth, but this will not happen uniformly. Some areas of the world will see an increase in precipitation, while others will be drier. The rain that falls due to these changes will be more intense and extreme and in Utah, this will increase the risk of flash floods throughout different regions. 

Other impacts of climate change include health impacts such as higher rates of respiratory disease, increased rates of asthma, and increased heat-related disease. Many industries will also be affected by climate change including the ski industry, agriculture, and the health-care industry.



So what can you do to mitigate the effects of climate change here in Utah? The UN Environment Programme recommends 10 things that will help no matter where you live:

  • Spread the word: Encourage others to reduce their carbon pollution
  • Keep up the political pressure: Lobby to support efforts to cut emissions and reduce carbon pollution
  • Transform your transport: Reduce the distance you travel by car or plane
  • Rein in your power use: Switch to zero carbon or renewable energy providers
  • Tweak your diet: Eat a more plant-based diet
  • Shop local and buy sustainable
  • Don’t waste food: Compost food scraps or participate in Salt Lake City’s food waste pickup.
  • Dress (climate) smart: Buy fewer new clothes and wear them longer
  • Plant trees: This will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Focus on planet-friendly investments: Create change by choosing financial institutions for your savings and investments that do not invest in carbon-polluting industries

Take a look at the data on our Environmental Dashboard to see changes in temperature and precipitation throughout the Wasatch Mountains and learn more about the climate you live in. 


Written By: Madeline Pettit


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