Temperate weather this fall extended one of the finest aspen-viewing seasons in memory. In fact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that September was the warmest on record for North America, marking the 46th-consecutive September (and the 453rd-consecutive month) with temperatures above the 20th_ century average.
Now that snow is accumulating, our focus (some might say obsession) turns to winter sports. Locals and scientists alike tell us that our high-country winters are getting warmer and shorter. While some enjoy the longer hiking and biking weather, it is in the best interest of our local economies and ecosystems to protect our winters. Let’s dig into the science behind warmer and shorter winters, and what they mean for us and for our wildlife neighbors.
With climate change, temperatures in the western U.S. are rising, leading to a shift in seasons. Using data from the US Global Change Research Program, the U.S. EPA reports that winters are particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures – minimum temperatures have increased at a rate even higher than average maximum temperatures. This means that some of what used to fall as snow instead falls as rain, while snowpack in many areas forms later, is shallower, has higher water content, and melts sooner.
The EPA reports that April snowpack in the Rockies and Cascades shrank an average of 23% from 1955-2022. The date of maximum snowpack in Colorado has become increasingly earlier, and snowpack duration has decreased by an average of 18 days. The lead author of a 2022 study predicts that Colorado will experience a 50-60% reduction in snow by 2080