snow_5.gifA new study from researchers at Oregon State University, showing that warming trends are likely to have significant effects on snowpack. (Good articles in the Seattle Times and the Oregonian.) The Northwest’s coastal mountains are especially sensitive to climate change because temperatures frequently hover near freezing—so even slight warming can drastically reduce the amount of snow that accumulates. (For localized details, click on the image at right, from the Seattle Times.)

By 2040, if warming trends continue as predicted:

    • About 3,600 square miles of low-elevation terrain usually covered by snow during the winter would be dominated by rainfall.
    • Nearly 22 percent of the snow-covered areas of the Oregon Cascades and 12.5 percent of the snow areas of the Washington Cascades would shift to a rain-dominated winter climate.
    • More than 60 percent of the Olympic Range’s snow-covered area would have rain-dominated winters.

The OSU findings aren’t exactly revolutionary, but they are more evidence that the Northwest has particular reason to be concerned about the impacts of climate change. And the snowpack affects a lot more important aspects of life in the region than just skiing: salmon run, irrigated farms, residential water supplies, and so on.

(During last year’s lousy winter, when my skis stayed closet-bound, I blogged about this subject a bit.)