Is snow dying out? Meteored experts weigh in
A few years ago, the International Ski Federation proposed adding to the calendar a World Snow Day, always coinciding with the third Sunday of January. Just today, therefore. This was done with the northern hemisphere in mind, because in the south summer is now in full swing and, furthermore, with very high temperatures in Australia or South America that are even breaking records. Global warming is behind those extraordinary events in the same way that is reducing the snow cover, through a warmer environment than a few decades ago. This day was not born to talk about environmental problems, but we have taken advantage of it in Meteored so that our experts reflect on snow in the current climate change.
In our Spanish portal tiempo.com, the meteorologist José Miguel Viñas believes that snow is clearly in retreat and that trend will continue for decades to come.
JM Viñas. In Spain and the rest of the countries of southwestern Europe it no longer snows like before. The great variability of precipitation makes it difficult to establish trends, but in the particular case of snow, its strong dependence on temperature determines its greater or lesser frequency of appearance. The unstoppable global warming has meant a rise in the average temperature in Spain of 1.3 ºC since the 1960s (+1.7 ºC with respect to the period 1850-1900) and this increase has been accompanied by a decrease –with ups and downs– in snow days, which, according to climate projections, will continue in the coming decades.
The reduction in the snowy season is particularly pronounced at medium and low altitudes in ski resorts, which has forced to make large investments in snow cannons, which are losing more and more efficiency, episodes with abnormally high temperatures are more frequent in mountain areas in winter. There is also the paradox that at high altitudes (above 2,000 m), in some sectors of the Pyrenees and the Alps, the rise in temperature has caused an increase in winter snowfall. This factor has increased the moisture content of the air and thus rainfall.
The growing tendency to have a more extreme climate is causing the outbreak of particularly intense snowstorms, which contrasts with the increasingly longer periods without snowfall.
Johannes Habermehl, expert at the German Meteored portal daswetter.com, consider that the snowfall this winter in Europe has been nothing more than an anecdote, and the worst thing is that it is an increasingly common scenario.
J. Habermehl. Until now, the winter in Central Europe and particularly in Germany has been a real failure. Temperatures are showing up to 2.5 ºC above the climatic average. So much so, that in some regions the change of year brought record values of up to 18 ºC. One had the feeling that spring had already arrived. Snow has occasionally appeared in the mountain ranges, but in the lowlands winter weather is generally rare.
We must assume that there will be less and less snow and ice in the future. Already this winter has featured snowfall that has barely been a glimmer in the pan.
After many sunny and dry days, next week there will again be the option of cooler and perhaps snowy weather. We’ll have to wait to see if winter works out. In general, we must assume that winter will bring less and less ice and snow in the future. Maybe soon it will even be a goodbye winter! In times of climate change, it is getting harder for snow and permafrost.
In the rest of Europe it is not very different. There, too, the winter has been quite mild for long periods. Although there was snow in Italy and France recently, it was mostly just a flash in the pan. In general, less and less snow is also expected in Europe in the future. Winters will also be milder.
And finally, the Chilean expert Alejandro Sepúlveda, collaborator of meteored.cl, shows his concern about the loss of snow in the American mountain ranges and especially that observed in the Andes.
A. Sepulveda. The effects of global warming are not only reflected in the planet’s temperatures. The current climate change is leaving the great mountain ranges of North and South America without their white winter cover, both due to the decrease in snowfall -in the increasingly short winter season- and due to the increase in events of liquid instead of solid precipitation, and the accelerated melting of the scarce snow with the arrival of spring.
Recent studies indicate that the days of snow in the mountain ranges of the western United States are numbered, if we fail to stop global warming: it is estimated that in the next 40 to 60 years winters may pass without a flake of snow falling on their summits.
Snow in the eastern mountain ranges of the United States may have its days numbered. In the Andes, a decrease of 10% per decade has been observed.
Something not so different happens in the vast Andes of South America, where one has been observing decrease of more than 10% of the volume of snow that falls in the region every decade, product of the extensive droughts that have affected vast areas of the continent. Glaciers, large ancient ice that depend on winter snow, may almost completely disappear from the Andes during this century, compromising the water supply for the communities and valleys that break off from it during the summer.