Update: The decline of Western snowpack is real

Data confirms climate model predictions of less snow that melts earlier in the season.


Natural Resources Conservation Service employees gather snow survey data from the Absaroka Mountains in Wyoming.


More than 700 SNOTEL telemetry stations —   run by the federal government — sit in high-mountain watersheds in 13 Western states, delivering vital data about water supply (“Taking water’s measure,” HCN, 6/13/16). Climate models using SNOTEL data predict a decline in Western snowpack, with earlier melting in spring – together increasing the risk of floods, droughts and severe wildfires.


In December, University of Arizona researchers presented new on-the-ground findings supporting these predictions. Using SNOTEL data and other tools, the scientists laid out a grid of squares, 2.5 mile on a side, across the U.S. — a much finer resolution than previous 40-mile squares — and studied snow records between 1982 and 2016. In parts of the West, annual snow mass has declined by 41 percent, and the snow season is 34 days shorter. Scripps Institute of Oceanography climatologist Amato Evan told the San Diego Union-Tribune that “climate change in the Western U.S. is not something we will see in the next 50 years. We can see it right now.”

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