Evolving weather patterns and our economy

Yeah, we all know the joke: Everybody’s talking about the weather but nobody’s doing anything about it.

But first, consider these past, present and future changes in the weather that have happened right here in Grand County that have impacted the economy.

The best example of one past weather change and its dire impacts is the mountain pine beetle infestation that started at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. Hundreds of thousands of trees were killed and turned many of the mountainsides here in the county to a sickening brown, followed by a hoary grey and then a stark appearance of scalded hair.

This weather-related calamity was caused by a slight but consistent increase in the air temperatures in the county that allowed mountain pine beetle eggs to hatch in massive numbers not seen for generations. Usually, the cold temperatures we knew here were just cold enough to kill most of the eggs. But just a slight uptick in the temperatures, combined with forests that were aged and tightly clustered, allowed the beetles to fly and kill massive numbers of trees.

How did that affect our local economy? First, I knew several second home owners that just moved away because they simply couldn’t stand the sight of the brown mountains after they had become accustomed to the green hillsides. It resulted in a mini-boom in tree cutting and tree-spraying that created some new jobs. But that was short-lived. And the county was stuck with many ugly mountainsides.

This weather change calamity of the past set us up perfectly for the weather-related calamity of the present. Grand County had a relatively dry and warm summer last year, leaving the already dead and dying beetle-kill forests vulnerable to any spark and any healthy gust of wind.
 Warmer and drier when compared to the past weather, combined with a careless campfire and heavy winds — heavier winds than in the past — and we had the so-called perfect storm: The East Troublesome Fire.

That’s definitely weather-change related and the damaging fire itself, as bad as that was, is now being followed by mudslides and unstable forest floors that are shutting roads and creating havoc for shipping, trucking and general travel and vacationing. Do I need to say that’s not good for the local economy?

And the future? If the last 20 years are any indication, the weather is going to continue to get warmer, the winters warmer and the winds stronger. That means we are still vulnerable to what we’ve just witnessed. Darn. It’s getting warmer and our forests are literally burning up.

What can be done locally about this? Build fire buffer zones around homes in the woods. Drive electric cars and limit drive time. In general, put less carbon in the air. This challenge to the world can be helped right here in Grand County.

I suppose Grand County businesses and resorts could brag about these changing weather patterns because as it gets hotter at the lower elevations our even-warmer temperatures here become even more appealing to visitors. I guess that could be an advertising pitch.

And yet, even major ski areas are planning far into the future and anticipating shorter ski seasons, shorter ski runs and, for some, an end to winter skiing as we know it now.

So, yes, I suppose we could brag about the fact that it’s cooler here. But that’s bitter consolation considering the way the weather is changing around the world.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.

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