Forecast Your Future stories from HCN readers

We asked our readers to forecast how climate change phenomena may have affected their community or region 50 years in the future. The three entries below were printed in the magazine and received an Osprey Hikelite 26 backpackThank you to Osprey Packs for their sponsorship and to all who participated in this contest!

  1. San Pedro River, Arizona —Xanthe Miller
  2. Kanab, Utah —Meghann Burke
  3. Hereford, Arizona (The Borderlands) —B. Kubby

Read the other fascinating Forecast Your Future stories below:

San Pedro River, Arizona

By Xanthe Miller

I grew up in the Mule Mountains of Cochise County, Arizona. From the top of Mount Ballard, you can look west to the San Pedro River. This piece depicts my forecast for the San Pedro riparian corridor if its aquifer is drained and surrounding urban development goes unchecked.

—Xanthe Miller

Kanab, Utah

By Meghann Burke

It’s a hot, hazy morning heading into town. Squalls of dust blow around the now-vacant subdivision of La Estancia. Back in 2019, it was considered the elite housing community of this high-desert town. Now, with the horrendous flooding coming off the cliffs towering above, the houses are in disrepair and their occupants have moved on, leaving behind a modern ghost town. The storms have been increasingly worse. Townspeople could no longer keep diverting the onslaught of water. Monsoon season used to be the culprit, bringing massive amounts of rain that would run down the canyon, destroying roads and flooding homes and businesses. But now, in 2070, the state of our climate has changed. The storms are more frequent and intense. The small town in the base of the canyon is no match for Mother Nature. We make a left in the heart of town and join the line of cars waiting at the entrance of Kanab Water Conservancy. Today, the north side of town is slotted to receive water rations. Since the Lake Powell pipeline came to be in 2030, water has become scarce, the Colorado put under more strain. This is the story of liquid gold.

—Meghann Burke

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Hereford, Arizona (The Borderlands)

By B. Kubby

Por favor, pass the nopales?” 


“How is Marissa?” 

“Oh, she’s well. We got a lot of canning done today.” 

Que bueno.” 

Pero. … Marissa is worried.” Mamá took a sip of wine. “She says the Mendez Well just went dry.” 

Verdad? The Mendez Well?” Papá’s eyebrows furrowed. 

Sí. If that damn Smith family keeps pumping the San Pedro —” 

Papá interrupted. “Yo sé. But they have the BLM in their pocket. What can we do?” He looked towards Pablo and me, and then said pointedly to Mamá, “Let’s talk later.” We finished dinner in silence. 

Pushing his chair back, Papá smiled warmly. “What a lovely dinner, mi querida.” He kissed Mamá and looked toward the window. Frowning at the dark blue sky, he stood to pull down the blackout shades. 

“Papá, could we wait a little? I love watching the sunrise. …” Pablo asked quietly, hopefully. 

“No, mijo. You know the rules. The summer heat is dangerous. If we don’t block out all the light, then our bodies will not adjust to night-living. You can watch the sunrise this fall when we switch back to day-living, OK? But for now, mijo … we can wake up early mañana and watch the sunset.”

—B. Kubby

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Livingston, Montana

By Anthony Pavkovich

The river became a trickle by July. Trout and whitefish filled the last remaining pools as the sun rose and beat upon the stone bed of the river. Coming down from the mountains, the bears feasted on the imprisoned fish of paradise.

As August dawned, the river stopped flowing. The pools evaporated, and fish bones sparkled under the mid-morning sun. Silence hung heavy in the valley.

The shop had been closed since June, when the state banned fishermen from the river. Drift boats sat dry and collected leaves in the back lot as midday approached.

When the river disappeared, in the late afternoon, the tourists stopped coming. Businesses closed, and silence filled the valley upriver.

As evening arrived, the Murray was full, packed to the brim by the few locals remaining since the last boat was pulled ashore. As the sun approached the horizon, there was a growing fear that eventually, even the taps would run dry.

While the sun went down, music played from the bar’s open windows. It wasn’t the swing or honkytonk that the patrons once enjoyed. Nights now were immortalized with a sad, slow waltz that flowed down the dry river.

—Anthony Pavkovich

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Aztec, New Mexico

By Greg Shearer

It's nothing major. We adapt. The morning commute today is faster than expected. Not that there are many delays to begin with, but the river trail is vacant today, though “river trail” has been a misnomer since runoff ended in June. More accurately named the “Animas Intermittent Arroyo Trail,” it will be dry again until spring.

Clouds overhead again today. Hopefully, they bring the rain the weatherman has wanted for the last month. Probably not. My bike navigates its way from path to dirt trail like it knows where to go. Must be on autopilot again today.

Check into the office. A couple new cases of fraud, a few dozen larceny, two murders. High for a Tuesday. The crowd from the East hasn't embraced the slower pace of New Mexico. I try to reason with some of them, but I haven't been flooded out of my home, out of my town, out of my state. They don't care about my opinions.

These refugees from the coast have made themselves known to all the police in town, who in turn make my law practice boom.

—Greg Shearer

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Sequoia Crest (Alder Creek Sequoia Grove) Springville, California

By Kim Dicso

The trees had run as far as they could. As temperatures climbed, so did the arboreal giants, gradually trudging upslope until they were at the mercy of an alpine precipice of wind and gravel where they didn't belong. They had witnessed the two-legged colonizers and their wars. They had endured storms, fire and the ax. But, in the end, they couldn't survive the plague of humankind. The winter snows had become summer rains that evaporated into dust before anyone could drink. The little water that remained was siphoned into the dry desert where humans' desperate thirst outweighed all else. One by one, as their shallow roots lost strength and loosened their grip on the dry earth, the giant sequoias tumbled to the ground and shattered in thunderous earthquakes that reverberated into the thirsty valley. Limbs and pieces of trunk slid downslope in an avalanche of ruddy wood, coming to rest in the dust. There they would remain for thousands of years, waiting to decay, as the world collapsed around them. The columnar sentinels had stood tall through every small disaster of man, each only a blip in their 2,000 -year lifetimes. But this — even they could not survive. And neither would we.

—Kim Dicso

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Salt Lake City, Utah

By Megan Walsh

I stand at the top of Mount Olympus and admire the box elder and Rocky Mountain maple lining the Salt Lake City grid — the Great Salt Lake brimming with runoff from perpetual Cascades-driven rain. Our reservoirs have deepened, our rivers have widened, our city teems with liquid.

Endless winter rains have drawn climate refugees from the flooded Midwest and sunken Florida, from the Pacific Northwest and Central America. Salt Lake now reaches to the border of Tooele, has crossed over Day Break and expanded to Thanksgiving Point to form a continuous stretch of suburbia.

It’s January, and the lifts at Snow Basin and Solitude, Brighton and most of Park City stopped turning a decade ago. Our state, which once celebrated the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” draws hundreds of thousands of winter visitors — but instead of Mount Baldy and Sugarloaf, they flock to our southern desert, where it’s too hot to hike after March.

The peaks of Big and Little Cottonwood are packed with mud like the lugs on my boots, and their drainages run green while their basins bleed brown. Instead of avalanches, we forecast mudslides, and instead of skiing, we trudge our way to rainy Utah peaks for views we considered alarmist in 2019.

—Megan Walsh

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Between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona

By Thomas Hulen

Sand dunes now separate Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona. The dunes are occasionally punctuated by granitic outcrops and low-elevation mountains. Much of what was the Sonoran Desert is replaced by constantly wandering waves of sand and dust. The resemblance to the Sahara Desert is striking.

The destruction of the Sonoran Desert is not complete. There are a few remnants scattered in Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora where rainfall patterns suitable for Sonoran Desert plants still occur.

But changes in rainfall patterns also favored the growth of buffelgrass, an exotic invasive grass introduced to the United States and Mexico for livestock forage that swiftly overtook the landscape. Buffelgrass evolved to withstand and thrive in ecosystems subjected to periodic wildfires. Sonoran Desert plants like cactus and other plants with green chlorophilic exteriors like palo verde trees cannot withstand fire, and they perish.

Now, the collapse of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem between Phoenix and Tucson is so thorough that buffelgrass is rarely observed there now.

Fortunately, people can still see examples of Sonoran Desert plants like saguaro cactus and palo verde trees at local botanical gardens, when the atmospheric dust levels allow them to visit.

—Thomas Hulen

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Harney County, Oregon

By Marjorie Thelen

2070 Obituary Notice: Burns and Hines, old frontier towns in southeast Oregon, died a slow, agonizing death, 50 years after they refused to acknowledge climate change. The residents of Harney County were among the rural Oregon communities that launched a sustained effort to defeat every carbon emission reduction bill that came before the Oregon Legislature. Well, they got their way. They kept their diesel farm equipment and old gas hog trucks. They kept their methane-producing cows. They kept their water-sucking pivots and watched the Harney Basin Aquifer dry up. They scratched their heads when their domestic wells went dry and their cows died for lack of water. No water. No alfalfa. No way to live. You drive through two ghost towns today. Front doors stand open on long-deserted homes. Grass grows through the pavement of the main streets. Traffic lights are dead; tumbleweed is the only thing moving. There’s no one home.

Burns and Hines won all those battles to keep fossil fuels cheap and polluting their environment. They won the battle to keep their center pivots operating and guzzling water. But they didn't win the battle to preserve their way of life.

—Marjorie Thelen

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Torrance, California

By Han Lee

In 50 years, climate change will have been an indisputable force in the American West — altering landscapes and communities with wildfires, floods, droughts, severe weather events, extreme heat waves and sea-level rise. But as these disasters increase in frequency, intensity and duration, the call for action from people suffering from climate change will have propelled strong policies and initiatives to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, thereby protecting the ecosystems, public health and food supply of the American West.

By 2070, my town will have an abundance of trees in yards and parkways, capturing carbon through photosynthesis, providing energy efficiency benefits, and growing healthy fruits for the neighborhood. Dedicated bike lanes, increased public transit options and clean vehicle mandates will result in a walkable and bikeable community. All rooftops will have solar panels, food and yard waste will head to compost facilities, and parks will replace oil refineries. Climate policies that clean our transportation and energy supply, protect and expand parks and natural lands, and incentivize climate-smart life choices will mitigate the climate threat and ensure that the landscape and communities of the American West are healthy, conserved and available for future generations to enjoy.

—Han Lee

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San Juan Mountains, Colorado

By Heidi Steltzer

In the year 2070, there will still be trees in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. There will be wildflowers and alpine species that specialize in tolerating the unique conditions of high altitude life. There will still be elk. Even if we do nothing to manage for climate change impacts, many species will persist. Let’s not look to extinction as the sole rationale for addressing climate change, or focus on tales of the loss of all trees across the Southwest. What we can expect in 2070 is an intensification of what we are experiencing now. Years such as 2018, with very little snow, rivers too low to raft and severe wildfires. Years such as 2019, with a lot of snow, rivers too high to raft and debris flows that kill fish, because the high snow year followed the low snow year and the fires. Ecosystem functioning, the unseen processes in the mountains that provide for human well-being, will change most. Ecosystems store carbon, provide nutrients to fuel plant growth, influence where water flows, and retain metals. These are the processes that scientists like me who study mountains measure. The hidden benefits of mountain ecosystems will be reduced in 2070, impacting you and me.

—Heidi Steltzer

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The Frank Church Front Country near McCall, Idaho: Diminished Habitat at Fall Creek

By CMarie Fuhrman

"I hear wolves," she said. No, I replied, it is just the wind through the trees. I wish it were wolves. "The burned trees," she corrected. Yes, burned — but look at the aspen springing up and the wildflowers the year after the fires! I had never seen. ... "So many mosquitoes up here. We should go back down." But you haven't seen the lake yet. "How far is it?" Just over that saddle. And there is a columbine that still grows there, paradise yellow, I would love to show you. "Don't columbine look like columbine?" Yes, but ... And so we hiked back down, while she talked about stores she wanted to visit and I felt like that kid again, the one with too much dirt on her knees, the girl who knew where the baby garter snake slept under a rock in the garden where no one else cared to go.

—CMarie Fuhrman

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Yellowstone National Park

By Lisa Baril

In 50 years, Yellowstone National Park will feel much like it did 6,500 years ago. Summers will be warmer and drier. Winters will be warmer, too, with more rain than snow falling. Back then, the sagebrush sea covered more ground than it does today, and Douglas fir thrived to the exclusion of lodgepole pine and subalpine fir. The memory of Yellowstone’s past was pulled from a muddy lake bottom not far from where I live. Paleoecologists study these sediment cores for clues that could help us adapt to our future, or at least predict what may happen. In 50 years, scientists say that sagebrush and junipers will thrive, squeezing alpine species off mountaintops.

Although the magnitude of early Holocene climate change was similar to what we are now experiencing, the interval over which today’s changes occur represents an instant in geologic time. It took 12,000 years after the glaciers retreated to create the landscape I see out my window. Many plants, trees and some animals won’t be able to keep up with the current pace of climate change. Yellowstone, like all national parks, will look different. Perhaps, with our help, what one national park will lose another will gain.

—Lisa Baril

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Golden, Colorado 

By Don Cameron

How can you have data to support a forecast of what Golden looks like in 2070? It’s called math! If a logistics curve is modeled against historical population growth, then Golden grows from its current 20,000 residents to only about 27,000 in 2070. Geography constrains our growth rate and predicts a plateau. But is it utopian, or dystopian, as most predictions are? Good news; it is mid-topian, a word that will come into use (without the hyphen) soon after the publication of this prediction. What does a midtopian society look like? It is still aging out, and people find it hard to buy into Golden. But due to legacy (i.e., people willing their property to their kin), it still goes on. Golden is still barely separate from Arvada and Lakewood, but people are happy that Pleasant View finally incorporated and become a friendly neighbor, if not a rival for development. The beltway around Denver has been pieced together around and through Golden, but with fewer cars and autonomous vehicles, it’s not so bad. Only 15% of Goldenites have installed hardware in their bodies (close to the national average). [DS1] Midtopia: It’s where you want to be.

—Don Cameron

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American River Parkway, California

By Mary Hanson

In 2070, I believe, climate change will have a decidedly negative impact on one of my favorite local species, the California pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta). This subspecies is endemic to the Central Valley of California; that is, it’s found here and nowhere else on earth, so its natural habitat is already very limited. In California, we have recently suffered through a succession of wildfires, too-hot summers and too-wet winters, all attributed to the effects of climate change. It’s my concern that this has resulted in the severe decline of the pipevine plants these butterflies require to live. The California pipevine swallowtail is “host specific”; it will only lay its eggs on pipevine plants, and its caterpillars will eat nothing but pipevine. So, if the plants go, the butterflies will, too. I’ve been watching the butterflies in my area in a purely non-scientific fashion, taking photos and journaling about them, and have noticed a decided decrease in their numbers. Where I used to see hundreds of caterpillars, I now see only dozens, even though the landscapes I walk through are protected as nature preserves. I fear that by 2070, my favorite butterflies will all be gone.

Mary Hanson

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Laytonville, California

By Cheryl Hansen

Northern Mendocino County in California is part of the Emerald Triangle. It has long been known for an alternative, self-sufficient lifestyle, with the cultivation of marijuana as an organizing factor for economic and social exchange. In 50 years, it will be known as a hub for the finest sun-grown cannabis in the world, with people from all across the globe vying to purchase the limited quantity available of the best, legally grown Mendo weed. The flourishing cannabis industry will support a local community and economy of scale, with current trends in self-sufficiency, environmental awareness, spiritual growth and bio-regional agriculture at the forefront of change as we adapt to an increasingly uncertain future. Mendocino County will become a magnet for forward-thinking entrepreneurs, designers, eco-developers and a new generation of back-to-the-land folks who will model how to create a small-scale, viable and vibrant local community that supports all areas of human endeavor while living lightly on the earth.

Cheryl Hansen

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Lewis-Clark Valley, Idaho and Washington, 2070

Scott Eckberg

Barren brown hills rise abruptly above the Snake and Clearwater rivers, whose confluence marks Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Washington.

Sunlight penetrates ashen skies, dappling the tepid, lifeless waters. During the 2040s, following decades of contention, four antiquated Snake River dams were removed. Though it proved cost-effective, their disappearance did nothing to restore salmon and steelhead runs, lost now to memory.

On gritty streets, vacant buildings hopscotch with taverns, storefront churches and oxygen bars selling respite from the acrid air. Electric vehicles charge at curbside stations. A solar array and nuclear reactor on the Hanford Energy Reserve efficiently replaced the old hydropower.

SmartHome technology, hydroponic farms and cannabis spur the economy. An ammunition plant churns firepower to governments facing refugee hordes. For the fortunate residents of gated neighborhoods in the Orchards and Heights districts, town life is best described as tolerable.

In a classroom, a centenarian reminisces. Several students wear T-shirts bearing their generation’s motto: No Future. One bitterly asks the elder why his generation failed to confront global climate change, despite the obvious science. After a few moments, the old man replies resignedly, "We thought it was a hoax."

Outside, a dust storm rattles the windows. It is the first day of spring.

—Scott Eckberg

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Colorado Front Range 

By Pam Sherman

I live in the montane on Colorado's Front Range in 2070. We have indeed lost most of our ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forests to high-intensity wildfires followed by persistent mega-gullywashers that topped the historic flood of 2013. Mountainsides have eroded. Invasive weeds and grasses have stabilized them, but created vast monocultures, reducing biodiversity to a minimum.

In 2020, some mountain residents woke up from jet-setting dreams to develop a mountain stewardship program for land and people. We learned to put the land first, no matter what. We observe ecosystem processes to determine what's sliding in and out of health and what we can do. We catch water in the soil, which then percolates down the slopes to the plains instead of rushing over the surface. We partner with mycorrhizal fungi to regenerate pines in seed refugia, where the land has not been burned to a crisp. We save and adapt seeds of all kinds. We are slowly regenerating the small water cycle in our region! We learned which weeds were edible and delicious, how to grow food in a way that sustains the land. We live and work together in a network of villages. We've changed, thanks to climate.

—Pam Sherman

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Southern California

By Rey L.

In 2070, it’s gonna be hot. Too hot. With temperatures in the three digits, going outside will be like getting into a sauna. The soils on lawns, parks, greenways and agricultural landscapes will become arid, cracked, dry desert-scapes. Trees will be felled by drought, disease and wildfires. People and wildlife will migrate away in search of healthier landscapes and climates. We’ll see the sequel to the Dust Bowl in a desolate land, stressed communities, and intense haboobs sweeping the skyline.

Unless. …

Unless people like us who care a whole awful lot do everything we can to make it stop. We can change how we live to make climate a priority — being smarter about everything we do, from what we eat to how we move and how we get our energy. We can vote and support policies that usher in an era of climate solutions — policies that put a price on carbon, reward soil health, preserve natural lands, rapidly deploy renewables, electrify transportation, provide a just transition to green jobs, and protect our air, water and children from climate disaster. We will all need to be climate stewards in order to thrive and survive in a carbon-constrained landscape.

—Rey L.

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Tenby, South West Wales

By Jemima Childs

There are no beaches left in the seaside town. No ice cream trucks roaming the shore, no buckets and spades digging holes and building castles, no tourists sunbathing underneath parasols. Surging waves engulfed the seaside cottages as they smashed against the cliff faces. Cafes have been abandoned, people have retreated inland, upland. The sea wall is underwater. Salty water washes up against the cobbles of the old church, forcing its way through the weak spots in the limestone. The high street is a river, where tree branches and car tires bob up and down with the current. Dark thunderclouds cluster around the lighthouse, pouring more water into the flood, taking back their home.

—Jemima Childs

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