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Cliff Mass: Snowpack has been stable last 40 years in Cascades, but will decline

Stevens Pass Ski Resort. (MyNortwest)

The level of the snowpack decline in the Cascades as it relates to the nature of global warming has often been a point of contention locally, especially as it relates to the future of skiing. Is the snowpack stable, or have the dire warnings about their decline come to fruition?

“Well, I actually wrote a paper on this, and I’ve been looking at it every year very carefully. And the truth is, snowpack has not declined very much during the last 40-50 years, so it’s actually been quite stable,” said Cliff Mass, professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Washington, on the Dori Monson Show.

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“Now, looking forward into the century, we think that global warming will probably reduce the snowpack by the time we get to mid- to end-century by maybe 30-40%, if the current trajectory continues,” he said.

Mass says the stability of the snowpack in the last 30 or so years contradicts many of the ominous warnings, but he believes this could change under current models.

“If you look at the trend over the last 30 to 40 years, snowpack has not changed much in the Cascades, and that’s in contradiction to some of the ominous warnings that came out, you know, 15 to 20 years ago: that the snowpack was disappearing; it was gone by 50%; by the 2020s the snowpack would be down tremendously — none of that stuff panned out, that was all exaggeration,” he said.

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“But what I’m saying is that if we keep putting CO2 in the atmosphere, the models predict that we will warm around here and the snowpack will decline, particularly in the second half of the century.”

Dori asked: “If these dire predictions for the future are going to come true, why hasn’t it started to manifest itself yet?”

“Well, we are very fortunate here to be downstream in the Pacific Ocean, which is very slow to warm up, and so we’re going to be one of the last places that the global warming signal is clear,” Mass replied. “So the ocean is our secret weapon to slow global warming.”

“But if you believe the models, we will see substantial warming by the end of the century if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise relatively rapidly,” he added. “So that’s in the future.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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