Climate Change Left a Devastating Wake in Colorado, Across the U.S. in 2020

Washington, D.C. — Extreme weather and record-breaking storms driven by climate change were unrelenting during 2020, causing billions in damages, burning millions of acres, and killing hundreds, according to a compilation released today by Climate Power.

That devastation was felt throughout Colorado, as the state faced its worst wildfire season on record, which included three of the four largest wildfires in state history.

The data draws a painful picture of the harm of 2020. Wildfires decimated more than 624,000 acres in Colorado, killing at least two people. These historic blazes decimated more than 550 structures and are believed to have caused more than $195 million in damages. The fires in Colorado and the West resulted in some of the worst air quality ever for the country and studies found that the smoke from the climate change-fueled fires may even alter the DNA of children. Across the West, at least 50 deaths were linked to wildfires.

According to a statistical analysis done by NCEI scientists, 2020 is very likely to rank among the three-warmest years on record. September 2020 was the hottest September on the globe in 141 years of record keeping.

“Colorado’s record-breaking wildfire season was a grim glimpse into our future if we fail to take bold, immediate climate action. The relentless climate fires, drought, and temperature swings impacted every Coloradan, with Black and Brown communities facing disproportionate harm,”  said Meghan Schneider, a spokesperson for Climate Power 2020. “If we do not act now, the climate disasters we saw in 2020 will be our new normal — the consequences of which will be catastrophic.”

Below is a snapshot of the climate crisis and its toll on Colorado’s communities and across the country this year. You can see a full month-by-month list of climate events from 2020 HERE

  • Record-Breaking Wildfires – Colorado saw its worst fire season on record, with three out of the four largest wildfires in state history burning this year. In September, the flames shut down Interstate-70 and the smoke has had many Coloradans breathing unhealthy air during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Damaging Derecho – On June 6, 2020, a derecho brought severe storms and damaging winds across Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming and into the Dakotas. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center noted it was only the third derecho documented west of the Rockies.
  • Severe droughts — In August, for the first time in eight years, 100% of the state of Colorado was under drought or abnormally dry conditions. As of August 25, more than half of the state of Colorado was in a severe drought.
  • Record-Breaking Snow – In February, central Colorado saw historic snowfall and in April, Boulder shattered the record for its snowiest season with 152 inches of snow.
  • Devastating Western Wildfires – Unprecedented wildfires weren’t unique to Colorado. California experienced its worst wildfire season on record. Nationwide, 9.5 million acres burned and 2020 still has the potential to become the more devastating fire season in our nation’s history.
  • Sci-Fi Red Skies – This year’s wildfires exposed 8 million people to hazardous pollution levels. Air pollution was so thick in places it caused the skies to turn a nightmarish reddish-orange hue inspiring a viral video that paired drone footage of the San Francisco skyline to music from the movie Blade Runner 2049.
  • Arctic On Fire – Wildfires blazed along the Arctic Circle, emitting a record 244 megatonnes of carbon dioxide as carbon-dense peatlands burned in Siberia. On June 20, a Russian town north of the Arctic Circle reached a record high of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, setting a new record for a region not exactly famous for heatwaves.
  • Five Storms At Once – For the first time since 1971, five named storms churned in the Atlantic Basin at one time. Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, and Vicky were each visible in the Atlantic Ocean on September 14th.