OC Wise Blog

Snow Pack In Crisis

Photos from NASA's Airborne Snow Observatory show a portion of the Sierra snowpack as it forms and melts between March and May 2014. Scientists say peak snowpack could be as much as 30 percent reduced by 2040. Image via Climate Resolve.

KPCC 89.3 FM has been hosting a series on California's historic drought. The station's coverage has included new technology in home building and community development, as well as town halls and updates from the field.

Of particular note was a story earlier this week looking at climate changes across California. According to State experts interviewed, California's can expect an average temperature rise of 5° F in the next 20 years. This would bring with it an increase of extreme heat similar to what the Southland has experienced over the last few weeks. In the future, Californians can expect three weeks to a month of extreme temperatures versus the one to two weeks we experience now.

The most alarming part of the story had to do with California's diminishing snow pack. Here's a short excerpt:

The average number of extremely hot days per year (defined as days hotter than 95 degrees Fahrenheit) in 1981-2000 (orange bars) and projected for 2041-2060 (blue bars), based on UCLA professor Alex Hall's Climate Change in the Los Angeles Region Project. The future projection is based on data from more than 30 global climate models brought to neighborhood-scale resolution, and it represents a "business as usual" scenario assuming greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

California's precipitation will cycle between drought and deluge, and we'll have far less snow. Here's some good news: climate models suggest California will get roughly the same amount of precipitation on average in 2040.

The bad news is that warmer winters will cause more of it to fall as rain instead of snow. That means the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains will shrink, possibly by 30 percent.

The snow pack supplies about third of the water for the entire state, state climate scientist Elissa Lynn said. It typically gives California a steady flow of water in drier months as the snow gradually melts.

"As we lose that snowpack we lose a good portion of our water supply for the spring and summer," Lynn said.

To cope, the state will need to rethink how it stores and distributes moisture from winter storms.

To read the full story, CLICK HERE to visit KPCC's website.

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