That’s basically what Montanans can expect to see over the next 50 years if current global warming trends continue, according to University of Montana professor Steve Running.
Running is one of the co-authors of last week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations-sponsored conference where more than 1,000 of the world’s top scientists gathered to forecast the future of our warming planet.
In a call to reporters on April 6, the day the IPCC released its gloomy document at a conference in Brussels, Running pointed to Montana’s current dwindling snowpack as evidence that global climate change is already happening in Big Sky Country.
“Snowpack is melting on the order of three to four weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago,” Running said. “Put that fact together with increasing summertime wildlfire season and we’re seeing a picture emerge that starts with early snowmelt, which starts the drying of the landscape a month earlier, and extending the summer drought period longer than it was in the past. We have every reason to think this trend will continue.”
Running added that while short-term weather patterns could change the picture from year to year, the trend toward hotter, dryer summers is inevitable—and it has potentially devastating consequences for Montana.
“Probably we can imagine 50 percent more acres burned in summertime wildfires 30 years from now than what the average is now,” Running warned.
And the National Park Service might want to start thinking about renaming Glacier National Park. According to Running, if the current trend continues—and he is certain it will—the park’s namesake ice sheets will be history by 2037.
But the news isn’t all bad. Running suspects Montana’s big game hunters might enjoy a warming planet.
“We used to have pretty serious winterkill of deer, elk and antelope herds,” Running said, noting that warmer winters are easier on those herds. “I think my sense is that in the immediate future, hunting seasons should do pretty well.”