Climate change is already resulting in changes in cold desert ecosystems, lending urgency to the need to understand climate change effects and develop effective adaptation strategies. In this review, we synthesize information on changes in climate and hydrologic processes during the last century for the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau, and discuss future projections for the 21st century. We develop mid-century projections of temperature and climate for the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau at timescales relevant to managers (2020 -2050), and discuss concepts and strategies for adapting to the projected changes. For the instrumented record in the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau (1985-2011), a temperature increase of 0.7°C to 1.4°C has been documented, but changes in precipitation have been relatively minor with no clear trends. Climate projections for 2020 to 2050 indicate that temperatures will continue to increase, especially in winter and during the night. Precipitation is more difficult to project and estimates range from an 11% decrease to 25% increase depending on location. Recent records indicate that the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau are becoming more arid, a trend that is projected to continue. Droughts are likely to become more frequent and last longer, invasive annual grasses are likely to continue to expand, and the duration and severity of wildfire seasons are likely to increase. Climate projections can help in developing adaptive management strategies for actual or expected changes in climate. Strategies include reducing the risks of nonnative invasive plant spread and wildfires that result in undesirable transitions, planning for drought, and where necessary, facilitating the transition of populations, communities and ecosystems to new climatic conditions. A proactive approach to planning for and adapting to climate change is needed and publicly available internet based resources on climate data and planning strategies are available to help meet that need.