Cliff Mass on state’s depleted snowpack: ‘We understand … it’s not climate change’

Feb 13, 2024, 5:54 AM | Updated: 8:49 am

washington snowpack...

Snow atop distant mountains on Washington's horizon. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

As Washington’s snowpack sits far below normal levels, The Seattle Times recently wrote that climate change, caused by humans burning fossil fuels has “in part” forever changed the volume of snow the state will see.

What used to be snow will merely turn into rain, The Seattle Times theorized; a sentiment Cliff Mass, an atmospheric science professor for the University of Washington (UW), disagrees with.

“The key thing is the snowpack and the snowpack is below normal right now,” Mass told The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH 770 AM. “(The Seattle Times) is trying to suggest that this is predominantly the effect of global warming climate change while the truth is very different.”

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Mass cited the region’s El Niño winter conditions as the most significant reason for the depleted snowpack. El Niño causes the Pacific jet stream to move south and spread further east, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During winter, this leads to wetter conditions than usual in the Southern U.S. and warmer and drier conditions in the Northern U.S.

“We have a powerful El Niño this year and it is well known that strong El Niños result in a low snowpack year over over the Pacific Northwest, and more precipitation than normal over California,” Mass said. “We understand exactly how this works. It was no surprise that after the new year, our snowpack started sliding back. We understand what it is and it’s not climate change.”

Mass claimed The Seattle Times “kind of playing with the numbers” in its story on the state’s depleting snowpack. The piece stated the snowpack on the Olympic Peninsula is 30% of normal levels, according to the latest data from the National Water and Climate Center, and that the region’s snowpack has shrunk by a third since 1955.

“It was very snowy in the mid ’50s,” Mass retorted. “If they took some other periods, let’s say the last 30-40 years where global warming is supposedly the greatest, there would have been no reduction. If they took a longer period, the reduction would have been gone way down. So they picked an optimum period, starting in a snowy period. That was wrong.”

The Seattle Times stated in its story the state’s snowpack could dwindle up to 70% more by the mid-2080s, using UW simulations to determine the approximate percentage. However, Mass insisted these conclusions were based upon “the most draconian excessive simulations” where carbon emissions excessively ramp up in the U.S.

“It’s just not realistic,” Mass said. “(UW) starts with unreal, non-realistic estimates of how CO2 will increase. They put in models that get this tremendous impact, but it’s not going to happen.”

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Despite disagreeing with the university’s simulations, Mass made sure to relay he is not hated by his UW peers despite the disagreements.

“One should never use the term ‘believe’ with a scientist,” Mass said. “I mean, that sounds like you believe in some religious principles. I mean, science is based on evidence and testing the evidence and the evidence is very powerful. The data is very powerful, suggesting that we’re warming up very slowly and humans are probably contributing a bit to it, but it’s not the end of the world, and the snow packs are not going to go away tomorrow.”

Mass claimed the amount of precipitation will actually increase under global warming, giving the region more rain and local reservoirs more water. The City of Seattle’s water and reservoir levels are both above normal.

“Next year, if La Niña shows up, is a very good chance we could end up with over 100%, 110%, 120% of normal,” Mass said. “That would not be unusual.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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