Image Credit: Ken James/California Department of Water Resources

“In an average year, the snowpack will be increasingly confined to the peak of winter and to the highest elevations.”– UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography

In spite of California’s historic winter, the effects of climate change still loom large. Climate scientists over at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography believe that the snowpack in the Golden State is expected to gradually decrease in the coming decades.

The study found that the snowlines have risen over the past seventy years, which is the elevation point where a non-snow surface switches over to the white stuff. By 2100, the snowlines are expected to continue to rise in elevation, meaning less natural snow at ski resorts. The snowline could rise more than 500 meters (1600 feet) in the high Southern Sierra Nevada range.

Image Credit: Alex Wolowiecki

The ultimate result will be a gradually declining snowpack, even if the massive snowfall, like what they saw this past winter, occasionally happens. With this diminishing snowpack, the study says that water resource managers need to prepare for feast or famine scenarios.

This could make things difficult for popular ski resorts in the state. If climate change continues without significant intervention by humans, Mammoth could see up to 28% less snowfall in the second half of the 21st century. Palisades Tahoe and Northstar, which sit at a lower elevation compared to Mammoth, could see more than a 70% decline in snowfall during the second half of the century.

Alexander Gershunov, who is a climate scientist at the University of San Diego, described the magnitude of this study in the press release:

“This is the longest and most detailed account of snow accumulation in California, resolving individual storms over 70 years of observed weather combined with projections out to 2100.”

If you’re looking for some good news from this report, Gershunov did say that deep snowpack winters can still happen due to wet atmospheric rivers.

“Observations and future climate projections show that already rising snowlines will keep lifting. Epic winters will still be possible, though, and unprecedented snowfalls will ironically become more likely due to wetter atmospheric rivers, but they will be increasingly confined to the peak of winter and to the highest elevations of the Southern Sierra Nevada.”

A video report from ABC 10, which discusses the findings with Mike Reitzell of Ski California, is below.

Image/Video Credits: Alex Wolowiecki (Featured Image), Ken James/California Department of Water Resources, ABC10

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