Climate and environment
Climate changes that affect the ski sport
This website and respective organization is by no means an expert in climate and climate changes. There are many excellent articles and other websites that we choose to refer to. One of them “SaveOurSnow.com” has compiled, summarized and linked to several articles covering the likely impact of climate change is all our continents.
The following text is taken from the article “Climate & Skiing” by Michon Scott. It was published at the NOAA climate.gov web site on November 19, 2018 ( https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-skiing).
Past and future
Since the 1960s, overall North American snow depth has declined, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, and the snow season’s maximum snow depth has occurred a week earlier on average. The Great Lakes snow belt regions experienced some increases through the late 1970s and early 1980s, but since then, the trends have reversed in some of those same areas.
Across the continuous United States (CONUS) as a whole, total snowfall largely declined between 1930 and 2007, according to a 2009 study cited by the Environmental Protection Agency. That study examined long-term snowfall-station data, finding that snowfall totals dropped by more than half in the Northwest, and also declined sharply in the Southwest.
“In the Northern Sierra Nevada, the timing of sufficient snow for recreation has shifted later by around two weeks,” Hatchett says. “The change is probably due to both decreases in precipitation falling as snow, and increasing numbers of dry days, all superimposed upon warming background temperatures.”
The national assessment concluded that under a high-emissions scenario, the northern portion of the CONUS will likely turn wetter as climate warms, and much of the precipitation there will fall as snow, at least through the middle of the century. That doesn’t necessarily mean good news for ski resorts nationwide, though. Ski resorts in the Southwest aren’t projected to get more snow, and snow cover is already starting later and retreating earlier. And by the end of this century, the report states, “it will be too warm to snow in many current snow-producing situations, and precipitation will mostly be rainfall.”
Authors of Fourth National Climate Assessment point out that predicting regional and local changes is harder than predicting average changes across the CONUS. But some forecast efforts have taken on that challenge.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, Cameron Wobus is a research scientist studying hydrology and environmental data, among other disciplines, He has long worked with the Climate Division of the Environmental Protection Agency, examining possible economic impacts of a warming climate. He also likes to ski. The impact of climate change on the ski industry struck him as a logical subject to examine, and in 2017, he led a study on the projected climate impacts on skiing and snowmobiling across the United States. To run the models, he enlisted Eric Small, a professor in the Geological Sciences Department at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
Wobus, Small, and their coauthors simulated natural snow accumulation at 247 winter recreation destinations across the CONUS. They incorporated five climate models and two emission scenarios: RCP4.5 (moderate emissions) and RCP8.5 (high emissions). In this as in other studies, high-emission scenarios present more worrisome forecasts than moderate-emission scenarios, especially toward the end of the century.
Under both scenarios, winter season length could be cut short by more than half in some locations as soon as 2050. Shorter ski seasons “could result in millions to tens of millions of foregone recreational visits annually by 2050, with an annual monetized impact of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Figures above: Compare projected changes in downhill-ski-season length by 2050 if we follow a moderate (RCP 4.5) versus a high (RCP 8.5) pathway of carbon dioxide emissions.
“Since this was a national-scale study, we had to make assumptions about elevation and slope,” Wobus says. “We took data from a digital elevation model then, for each ski resort, we assumed the same elevation and slope for the entire resort, but that’s obviously not the case. In reality, the topography is more complicated. There will be pockets in each resort that do better or worse than our projection based on, for instance, whether it’s a north- or south-facing slope.” But the study produces enough detail to show widely varying outcomes in different parts of the country.
“I was a little surprised at how dismal the results look in the Northeast. By the end of the century, people will not be skiing in New England,” he said. The Sierra Nevada fare better. The Rocky Mountains fare better still, thanks to their overall high elevation.
Figures above: Compare projected changes in downhill-ski-season length by 2090 if we follow a moderate (RCP 4.5) versus a high (RCP 8.5) pathway of carbon dioxide emissions
The Wobus study is not an outlier; the Climate Impact Lab has published projections for days below freezing, and those results roughly overlap with those of the Wobus study, with the Rocky Mountain ski resorts surviving longer than other areas. But although the Rocky Mountains fare better than other skiing locations, Wobus, Small, and their coauthors found negative impacts in practically every winter-recreation resort, including those in the Rocky Mountains.
Figure: Projected days below freezing at selected climate stations. Derived from Climate Impact Lab.
Higher temperatures won’t automatically mean less snow in the Rocky Mountains. Small says, “What’s important is the temperature when it’s snowing, not the average temperature. There will still be light and fluffy snow. On average, there’s more snow in future simulations than in present-day simulations, at least during the middle of the winter. Many resorts in the Rocky Mountains should be fine, even with considerable climate change, because of the elevation.”
But although the Rocky Mountains will stay snowy longer, they will still feel impacts, according to a 2018 update to the 2014 Climate Change in Colorado assessment. And if temperatures continue warming long enough, Colorado’s snow will begin to be more like California’s Sierra cement, which could wipe the smirks off Colorado-champagne skiers’ faces.
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