Utah is still some weeks away from being in the full grasp of summer. But already we are hearing warnings from people whose job it is to know about these things that drought and other weather patterns have several hazards in store for us.
The most immediate and dangerous is the threat of a fire season that will start early — like, now — and be longer and riskier until at least August.
For most people, that means being aware and intelligent. Activities that may seem normal and innocuous — cooking outdoors, target practice, even parking a car in dry grass or tossing a smoldering butt out the window — have the potential to ignite grass and other plants that grew well in a wet winter and spring but will quickly dry out as summer moves in.
Large and dangerous fires last summer in California demonstrate how forest and range fires are not limited to the back country. They can quickly overwhelm urban and suburban areas, causing widespread damage and death.
Experts are also noticing that reported cases of insect-carried diseases, most notably Lyme disease, are up sharply in Utah in recent years. They attribute that to changing weather patterns, which increase the lifespan and geographic range of the ticks that generally are blamed for spreading that malady.
Again, all the individual can do is to be on the watch. Any venture into the woods or other wild areas should include long pants and long sleeves and insect repellent. Symptoms such as a new rash and an sudden onset of flu-like symptoms should signal a trip to the doctor.
And the big picture of the long-term drought that continues to hover over Utah and the West is seen in reports that Mexico, Nevada and Arizona are facing significant cutbacks in their annual allotments of Colorado River water. That’s because the annual runoff from the snows of the previous winter, the primary recharge of the river, is down, because snowfall is down.
It isn’t necessary to accept that changes in our climate are largely caused by human activity (even though they are) to understand that the climate is changing and humans, if they want to continue living here, are going to have to change, too.
That means much greater efforts to conserve water, increasing what people must pay to use it and minimizing anything - like ginormous pipelines or an infestation of dams - that would interrupt its natural flow. It also means being more intelligent about living and building things so that we are less likely to start or feed wildfires.
We’ve seen this coming for a long time, and now it is here. Even if humanity as a whole gets a grip on its carbon-burning ways and stops pushing our climate over the edge, in Utah we will be looking at less water, longer summers and thirstier ticks.
It’s the new normal. Learn to live with it.