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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This story was originally published by High Country News, thought it interesting and thought provolking and decided to share it with the Buzzards..

Across the Central Rockies, it’s been an unseasonably warm, dry year. Denver smashed the record for its latest first measurable winter snow. Colorado ski resorts delayed opening because temperatures were too high to even produce fake snow. And Salt Lake City was entirely snowless through November, for only the second time since 1976.

These snowless scenarios, while still an exception, are set to become much more common as early as 2040, according to a paper published in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment. Drawing from years of snowpack observations, the researchers project that in 35 to 60 years, the Mountain West will be nearly snowless for years at a time. This could impact everything from wildfires to drinking water.

The purpose of the study was twofold. First, researchers wanted to highlight the extent of snow loss in the last several decades, and in those to come. “This is not an issue in a hypothetical future,” said Erica Siirila-Woodburn, a research scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and one of the study’s lead authors. The Mountain West has already lost 20 percent of its snowpack since the 1950s and could lose another 50 percent by the end of the century. Another key objective, said Siirila-Woodburn, was to provide more accurate and usable information to water managers and policymakers who need precise information on how much time they have to prepare for a future with much less snow.

To do that, the researchers created models that classify the degree of snow loss across four mountain regions. For example, in April 2015, the Sierra Nevada’s peak snowpack was only 5 percent of normal, something the researchers describe as an “extreme” event. And while extreme events will continue to happen with greater frequency, what will also start to become common are “episodic low-to-no snow” events, when at least half of a mountain basin experiences low-to-no snow for five consecutive years. That could happen as early as 2047 in the Sierra Nevada. Persistent snow loss, defined as when at least half of such an area experiences low-to-no snow for 10 consecutive years, could begin in California in the late 2050s, in the Pacific Northwest in the early 2060s, and in the Upper Colorado by the late 2070s.


The white line indicates the 10-year average snow cover of each basin area. Yellow vertical dashed and solid lines indicate the emergence of episodic (low-to-no snow for 5 consecutive years) and persistent (low-to-no snow for 10 consecutive years) snow disappearance. Siirila-Woodburn et al.

The effects will extend far beyond just shuttered ski resorts. The study points out that the declining snowpack is already contributing to another growing problem in the West: extreme wildfires. Lack of snow after wildfires could make it much harder for forests to recover. “Snow matters after the fire in terms of facilitating or fostering the revegetation of the area,” said Anne Nolin, a snow hydrologist and professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who has studied the connection between snow and post-wildfire forest recovery. (Nolin was not involved with the paper.) And with more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow, this could permanently alter the kind of vegetation that grows back, as well as the structure of the soils, which can lead to issues like erosion. “This all has cascading impacts,” Nolin said.

But perhaps the biggest impact will be on water supply. About 75 percent of the water used in the Western U.S. comes from snowmelt. The Colorado River, for example, is fed by mountain snow and supplies drinking water for more than 40 million people. Western rivers also generate electricity and provide irrigation for millions of acres of farmland. “Every state in the West that is dry or uses Colorado River water is being impacted,” said Nolin. That includes Lake Mead, which is fed by the Colorado. Nolin recently flew over the reservoir and was shocked by how low it was. Water lines on the rock, staining the rocks white, were visible several feet above the actual water surface.

Other dry areas, like California’s San Joaquin Valley, are already facing a water crisis brought about by drought and shrinking aquifers. With the snowpack receding, drought lingering, and the groundwater getting sucked up by agriculture, several communities have already lost all access to their drinking water.

The authors offered potential solutions in the paper, suggesting ways that water managers can adapt to a drier future and increasingly critical water supply issues, such as by using weather and hydrologic forecasts to selectively release or store water for flood control, or purposefully recharging groundwater and aquifers for water storage. “The main point is to try to be proactive about all of this, rather than reactive,” said Alan Rhoades, a hydroclimate research scientist at Berkeley Lab and one of the paper’s lead authors.
 

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Pondering this, anyone who believes in human influences on the climate, and given what we know about China's and India's growing and unrelenting contribution to greenhouse gas levels, (notwithstanding the efforts of Western nations to curtail emissions) one is tempted to say, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

"here" being the US West, where agricultural and population demands on available water supplies -- above and below ground -- are going to collide with political and practical limits in the next decade or two.

Maybe if the true cost of water was ever assessed against users, working the land and living in these arid regions would bump up against more sustainable limits.

Rich Phillips
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Good point.

The article didn't delve into the climate change aspect, which I believe is the PC term for Global Warming, but it certainly is a consideration.

The water users, which the Colorado River Compact was formed around, aren't charged anywhere near what the true cost of the water is for the most part, and now that there's less and less of it, it's becoming more of a commodity that should be valued, perhaps in dollars, as it becomes more and more scarce.

Perhaps we wouldn't see so many golfin pastures, and Olympic swimming pools, surrounded by water intensive lush landscapes and bluegrass lawns if it were smack in the middle of the deserts..
 

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The cost will come in different ways, of course. Not just at the large scale agricultural level, but at the individual level also.

For example, as water tables drop, any person or business depending on well water is going to cough up huge drilling costs. That eventually becomes a real deterrent to new construction, but also to continued residency.

And the day will come when it no longer makes sense to pay real market rates to water cotton in Arizona when -- even adjusting for crop cycles -- it can be easily done back East. The same shift might eventually begin in that vast agricultural engine in the Imperial Valley.

The intermediate term view here is hard to predict. The influences of entrenched money and politics have been known to distort what would have seemed to be inescapable logical outcomes. But the long term is inescapable.

Rich
 

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Really makes you wonder big picture how everything works with each other. In terms of how long we’ve been on this planet is nothing compared to what has happened before us, and what will come after us. I also think there are other ways we may be contributing to changing the environments around us…idk maybe there’s a big ass lake that wasn't there before..the desert is the desert..but us humans have to live where we really want to live.
 

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I tend to think of this in the long term trends vs. some man made climate change issue. Bound to have drought cycles out west here regardless of CO2 levels. Of course politicians want to capitalize on this issue as they crave power.

What the West's Ancient Droughts Say About Its Future (nationalgeographic.com)
Sahara used to be an oasis, Canada used to be covered in ice. Times change and so does the climate. Decent amount of evidence to prove that. What’s funny is that before agriculture humans moved to where they can survive by living off the land and what the land can give them at the time. Now we just say hey this is a pretty cool spot. Then get pissed when there’s no water, food, or goods.
 

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Sahara used to be an oasis, Canada used to be covered in ice. Times change and so does the climate. Decent amount of evidence to prove that. What’s funny is that before agriculture humans moved to where they can survive by living off the land and what the land can give them at the time....
Yes, the climate has been dramatically different in the past - it's been much hotter and much colder than it is right now. Typically the changes from one regime to another have occurred over timescales of hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. The only times that the climate has changed as rapidly as it is changing right now have been accompanied by mass extinctions, and lots of other really bad things for life on earth. The last time there was as much CO2 in the atmosphere as there is now, sea level was about 50 - 75 feet higher. It'll take years to decades for the icecaps to melt and cause those sea level rises, however it's happening right now and the ball is rolling with a lot of momentum. "Houston, you have a problem."

There's a big difference between human timescales and geologic timescales. Confusing the two is a lot like confusing how long it takes cross Kansas in a covered wagon versus a BMW coupe. Yeah, they'll both get you across, but the covered wagon took a month, the BMW takes less than a work day.

Here's a really good graphic of climate change over the last 22,000 years. Though short term spikes get smoothed out, you'll notice how stable the climate's generally been and that long-term changes have been very gradual until the very end.

 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
Reply to my email from a friend that used to do cloud seeding


This question often resurfaces. Most involved investigators agree that 'shadowing' can only occur if the area involved isn't normally subject to natural shadowing i.e. Reno. So, seeding the Sierra directly upwind of Reno will have no effect on Reno precip as Reno is naturally shadowed to most winter storms. This seems obvious but, for myriad reasons, it's not. It's strong consensus, though.

The WMA argues against seeding having measurable impacts in areas downwind of release points when areas claiming negative shadowing are out of the targeted area. Operational guidelines and criteria are TIGHT and require operators to ensure seeding is only done when out of target impacts are unlikely. Much effort goes into acquiring permitted release points in "just the right spot" so outside impacts can be avoided while targeted impacts arevmaximized. Seeding agents, while robust, are dependent on meteorological conditions. Consequently, areas downwind of release points would face so many factors that might ground condensation nuclei as to make a measurable impact impossible.

I always had an experiment in my head designed to address downwind impacts. Of course, nobody else was ever interested enough to fund same. I did collaborate on two studies that incorporated a number of my specific tasks which we used to try to sell the whole shebang to NSF. Bupkus......if only

Edit to add more in another reply 🙂

Almost forgot, I'm familiar with Crested Butte's network. The get/got funding from CWCB and we looked at their siting issues in the 90's. Physical access issues and federal permitting restrictions actually keep them out of using areas with ideal release points. They're reaching to claim 7% augmentation and I KNOW they haven't done sufficient sampling to accurately determine % increases in their target. Not to mention the truly crappy work that their Durango-based "contractor" provides. So nice to actually vent about those morons after years of having to keep my mouth shut.

And there ya have it..
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Another follow up email...

Just another thought re: downwind (out of target) impacts and the reasoning behind conclusion I drew.

The precipitation budget for any given storm is orders of magnitude above what even the largest seeding network could scavenge from said storm under ideal conditions. Ground based seeding only impacts the lower regions of, often immensely deep, complex winter storms. Vertical mixing most often seen in violent summer storms is largely suppressed in more sedate, stratified winter storms. Seeding solution's ice condensation nuclei (ICN) nucleation and accretion rates have been sped up over the past ~25 years by making ICN hygroscopic with the addition of a sodium component. This allows release points to be situated up to 75% closer to targets than was previously possible. Injecting ICN in such stable masses within known meterological criteria, using known nucleation and accretion rates at point blank ranges allows the savvy operator (me) to place near 100% of his ICN in the target.
 
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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
"Tons" of snow on it's way.. According to "open snow".. NOAA isn't seeing this, or at least it's not reflected in it's predictions, but heck, let's go with "Open Snow" for the time being

If it happens, will be a godsend for the upper Colorado basin..
 

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Weather forecasting for clicks is an interesting business model and may make for some slanted projections. Then throw in you only have to be right ~30% of the time as a meteorologist in CO and it feels like marketing half the time. I like CAIC, they do not pretend to long term forecast and they are saying some decent numbers - it is dumping now.

 

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Yes, the climate has been dramatically different in the past - it's been much hotter and much colder than it is right now. Typically the changes from one regime to another have occurred over timescales of hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. The only times that the climate has changed as rapidly as it is changing right now have been accompanied by mass extinctions, and lots of other really bad things for life on earth. The last time there was as much CO2 in the atmosphere as there is now, sea level was about 50 - 75 feet higher. It'll take years to decades for the icecaps to melt and cause those sea level rises, however it's happening right now and the ball is rolling with a lot of momentum. "Houston, you have a problem."

There's a big difference between human timescales and geologic timescales. Confusing the two is a lot like confusing how long it takes cross Kansas in a covered wagon versus a BMW coupe. Yeah, they'll both get you across, but the covered wagon took a month, the BMW takes less than a work day.

Here's a really good graphic of climate change over the last 22,000 years. Though short term spikes get smoothed out, you'll notice how stable the climate's generally been and that long-term changes have been very gradual until the very end.

Temps have not increased 3.5 degrees since 0 A.D. this is just plain untrue. Even Wikipedia, by no means a right wing site shows this-many other sources will show this as well. CO2 and temps have little to no correlation through history.

2000+ year global temperature including Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age - Ed Hawkins - Global temperature record - Wikipedia
 
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