Across the Central Rockies, it has been a warm, dry year. Denver broke its record for the recent fifth snowfall. Colorado slopes are being slowly reopened because of the heat so high that they cannot even produce false hail. And Salt Lake City had no snow until November, only the second since 1976.
These snow-free events, while still different, are set to increase by 2040, according to a paper published in Nature Defines the Earth and the Universe. Depending on the age of inclination, researchers estimate that in 35 to 60 years, Mountain West will be free of snow for decades if global warming is not rapidly reduced. This can affect anything from wildfires to drinking water.
The purpose of this study was twofold. First, researchers wanted to show the extent of snowfall over the past few decades as well as the future. “This is not a future story in the imagination,” said Erica Siirila-Woodburn, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and one of the lead authors. The Western Alps have lost 20 percent of their snow since the 1950’s and could lose as much as 50 percent by the end of this century. Another major goal, said Siirila-Woodburn, was to provide accurate and useful information to water managers and planners who need accurate knowledge of the long-term future planning and low snowfall.
To do this, the researchers developed models that predict the amount of snow in four mountainous regions. For example, in April 2015, the Sierra Nevada snowfall accounted for only 5 percent of the snowfall, which researchers say was “very common”. And although catastrophic events will continue to occur more frequently, the re-emergence of “episodic low-to-no-snow” events, when about half of the mountain range experiences little or no snow for five consecutive years. This could happen in early 2047 in Sierra Nevada. Constant snowfall, defined as about half of such lands dropping to zero for 10 consecutive years, could begin in California in the late 2050’s, in the Pacific Northwest in the early 2060’s, and in the Upper Colorado by late arrival. 2070s.
The results will continue beyond the ski area. The study shows that the decline in snowfall is already causing another problem that is still growing in the West: wildfires. Lack of snow after wildfires can make forests more difficult to recover. “Snow occurs after fires to support or enhance the growth of the area,” said Anne Nolin, a hydrologist and professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, learned to connect between the snow and the recovery of the forest after the fire. (Nolin did not agree with the paper.) And with heavy rainfall falling instead of snow, this could permanently change the type of vegetation that grows, as well as the way the soil is formed, which can lead to issues such as erosion. “All of this has serious consequences,” Nolin said.