Climate study predicts in 30 years, Salt Lake City weather will be like the Nevada desert’s is today

Imagine Vegas heat — but without the casinos and showgirls. That could be Salt Lake City’s future, according to a new climate study that shows Salt Lake City’s summers could feel more like Las Vegas in a little more than 30 years.

The average highs of Salt Lake City’s warmest month — July — are likely to rise about 10 degrees by 2050, according to the global analysis by the Crowther Lab in Switzerland. The lab produced a data map that pairs one city’s future climate conditions with those of a current city.

For example, Portland, Oregon’s climate in 2050 will be more like the 2019 conditions in San Antonio, Texas. The climate in Phoenix in 2050 will feel like Baghdad does in 2019. And 2050 Stockholm will be more like 2019 Budapest.

And in Salt Lake City, average daily highs are likely to rise from the low 90s to the low 100s, similar to summer temperatures in Las Vegas, the study says.

But don’t brace for brown landscapes and snowless peaks just yet, climate experts in Utah say. While temperatures are already rising, precipitation levels are likely to stay the same, and may even rise in some parts of Utah.

“It’s easy to envision Las Vegas, with how hot and dry it is down there — but it’s hard to say that’s what we’d end up seeing,” said Mike Seaman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

The biggest difference, precipitation-wise, is that Salt Lake City’s water is far more likely to come as rain, rather than snow.

“We wouldn’t be holding that water in the snowpack as long,” Seaman said. “That would obviously impact reservoir storage.”

It also is likely to impact the ski industry — but more so at lower elevation resorts, Seaman said.

“One concern for the ski industry is, lower elevation resorts would trend toward more rain, less snow,” Seaman said. “Higher elevation sites wouldn't be impacted quite as much.”

Residents of the Salt Lake Valley also should expect to change their landscapes — but maybe not to the river-rock-and-cactus yards popular in Vegas.

“As temperatures continue to rise, our plants are going to require more water,” acknowledged Bart Forsyth, assistant general manager of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District.

“Climate models predict the growing season will increase, meaning the water we’ll have to apply will increase — unless we change the landscape,” Forsyth said.

But with more precipitation than Nevada, Utahns may be able to get away with a little more green — just not the rolling lawns of grass that are popular now, Forsyth said. The Water Conservancy District is promoting the “Localscapes” model, which calls for no more than 35 percent of a landscape to be turfgrass — about half of what is now used.

Look instead for a central open space, likely of grass, surrounded by border beds of waterwise shrubs and perennials, trees, and paths connecting other gathering spots and activity areas, like fire pits and patios.

“You’ll see yards that still look lush and green, but there won’t be as much turfgrass,” Forsyth said.

Converting to drip irrigation will be crucial. “Currently, what we have is a lot of overhead spray systems, even in planting beds,” Forsyth said. Drippers focus water only on the plants that require water and prevent evaporation.

If all else fails, Seaman joked, Utahns could consider moving toward more indoor entertainments.

“Sometimes it’s a pretty good cold front when you walk from the Strip into one of the casinos,” he said.