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Author Topic: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?  (Read 26049 times)
bscott
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #25 on: 12/19/13, 08:36 PM »

[/size]

Is that really what the climate modelers are saying? Not really, or at least that's a severe exaggeration of what most (scientifically peer-reviewed, published, etc.) climate modelers are saying. But I suspect you know that already, and are just being hyperbolic and alarmist (although some degree of alarm over anthropogenic climate change is probably warranted).


I disagree with Amar’s comment that I have exaggerated what climate modelers are currently saying.
A recent publication (scientifically peer reviewed) in Nature (October, 2013, 502, 183–187) attempts to clarify what the climate modelers are indeed saying.  The article frames the climate change discussion in a manner more easily understood by the uninformed public.  If carbon emissions remain at their current levels, the authors point out that climate models predict that large regions around the world will soon see temperature increases that have no recorded historical precedent.  By 2047, more than half of the planet will experience average temperatures hotter than anything seen between 1860 and 2005.  That is only 34 years!  Seattle is one of the cities impacted.  Eventually (shortly after 2047), the coldest year in Seattle is predicted to be hotter than the hottest year ever recorded in the last 150 years (1860-2005).  If the models are correct, within the next 30 years, the climate change signal should quickly overwhelm the natural variability signal in our weather data.

The point I wanted to make is that our climate is changing, and fairly rapidly.  What has seemed usual in the past may not be what we can expect in the future.  Past performance does not guarantee future results.  While I agree with Amar that the signal from climate change is still too small to detect in the current weather patterns, it is, never-the-less there.  That signal should be increasingly more apparent in the coming years. I believe that within a few years we will begin to notice a very different regime of temperature and snowfall in the Cascades.  That change could already be happening.


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Amar Andalkar
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #26 on: 12/19/13, 11:29 PM »

I disagree with Amar’s comment that I have exaggerated what climate modelers are currently saying.
A recent publication (scientifically peer reviewed) in Nature (October, 2013, 502, 183–187) attempts to clarify what the climate modelers are indeed saying.
. . .

The point I wanted to make is that our climate is changing, and fairly rapidly.  What has seemed usual in the past may not be what we can expect in the future.  Past performance does not guarantee future results.  While I agree with Amar that the signal from climate change is still too small to detect in the current weather patterns, it is, never-the-less there.  That signal should be increasingly more apparent in the coming years. I believe that within a few years we will begin to notice a very different regime of temperature and snowfall in the Cascades.  That change could already be happening.
Link to that Nature article (not free without institutional access): http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v502/n7470/full/nature12540.html

OK, I appreciate the explanation of your point of view on this issue. Perhaps I am hoping that point of view turns out to be an exaggeration of the actual degree of climate change which occurs over the rest of my lifetime, at least.

Actually, I do agree with your statement that "within a few years we will begin to notice a very different regime of temperature and snowfall in the Cascades", or at least fear that it will come true -- but not primarily due to climate change within the next 2 decades, but rather due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillaton shifting back towards its warm phase instead of the current cold phase we are in.

Which would mean a likely return to the bad old years of the late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, when even the best years were barely above average, and most years were mediocre to well-below average (although even those years produced snowpacks far beyond any others in the lower 48 outside the Sierra). I was fortunate to start backcountry skiing in the Northwest during the summer before 1996-97, which turned out to be the first huge snow year in over 2 decades, and then enjoyed a number of huge to record-type years since then (1998-99, 2001-2, 2005-6, 2007-8, 2010-11, 2011-12), with only 2 far-below-normal years (2000-1 and 2004-5). A return even to the snowpack regime of the late 1970s to early 1990s period would be a major ongoing disappointment compared to recent years.


Finally, I'm curious Amar, do you work with this data professionally/academically or do you just have a keen personal interest? Most folks don't know of or throw out acronyms like ENSO, SST, and PDO Smiley

No professional or academic involvement in meteorology or atmospheric sciences, although self-taught over a decade ago to maybe an advanced undergrad or beginning grad-student level in that field (or at least the areas of it which interest me). I'm an experimental physicist by training and spent a number of years as research faculty at UW in that field, although as many of you know I'm taking a lengthy career break to ski mountaineer full-time and attempt to complete my Cascade volcanoes ski guidebook. Perhaps ironically given my frequent posts of snow-related data, I never liked data analysis that much, and preferred instead to spend as much lab time as possible designing, machining, and building various experiments, apparatus, ultra-high vacuum systems, diode-laser systems, etc.


(Also, for the color-blind, there may be a superior color palette choice. I haven't thought about it in the context of this sort of plot).

The choice of using red and green in any plot definitely makes it hard for many of us to see it, I'm only minimally red-green color blind (the problem is worse for me when the red-green area is small, subtending a tiny angle in my field of vision) but always tend to notice that issue. Even the first plot of data points and lines is hard to see for me, trying to tell the red and green points apart with no other clue like differing data point markers for each site. But it's always hard to get those with normal color vision to use only red-green color-blind-safe colors when things look "fine" to them.

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Bird Dog
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #27 on: 12/24/13, 02:18 PM »

Below is a quote from the Forcast Discussion from NWS Seattle today.

.CLIMATE...THERE IS A CHANCE THAT THE REMAINDER OF THE MONTH WILL BE
DRY. THE PRECIPITATION TOTAL AT SEATTLE-TACOMA AIRPORT SO FAR FOR
THE MONTH OF DECEMBER IS 1.62 INCHES. THIS WOULD BE THE SECOND
DRIEST DECEMBER ON RECORD AT THE AIRPORT SURPASSED ONLY BY THE
RECORD 1.37 INCHES SET IN 1978. INCLUDING THE FEDERAL BUILDING
RECORDS WHICH GO BACK TO 1891 THIS WOULD BE THE FIFTH DRIEST
DECEMBER.

IT IS INTERESTING TO NOTE THAT THE RECORD WET SEPTEMBER WE HAD THIS
YEAR...6.17 INCHES...BROKE THE OLD SEPTEMBER RECORD SET IN 1978.
FELTON

Interesting.
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tele.skier
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #28 on: 12/24/13, 02:46 PM »

Recent less scientific research has shown the snowpack to SUCK.... 

Uller,.... a little help please??
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gorp
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #29 on: 12/24/13, 04:02 PM »

tragically, no one knows whether it will snow or not.
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aaron_wright
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #30 on: 12/24/13, 05:06 PM »

A good year to buy gear from desperate retailers in February to use in the big dumps that come in March and early April like the '04-'05 season. Not every day is a powder day.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about some trams to the alpine in the Cascades. Wouldn't a tram to Mt Cashmere be great? How about up to Spider Gap area?
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #31 on: 12/24/13, 11:10 PM »

Maybe it's time to start thinking about some trams to the alpine in the Cascades. Wouldn't a tram to Mt Cashmere be great? How about up to Spider Gap area?

You may already know about the efforts in the early 1970s to locate a ski area on Mt Cashmere. I have some brief notes here:

http://alpenglow.org/ski-history/subjects/S-info.html#ski-areas-proposed

It's interesting that one of the key people behind this effort was Bill Stark, who was still a Boeing engineer at that time. Bill and his wife Peg later retired in Leavenworth and established the Scottish Lakes High Camp. They are also well known for their descriptive names in the Enchantment Lakes.

Here's a Bob and Ira Spring photo of one of their reconnaissance trips to Mt Cashmere, circa 1970:



And here's a nice photo of Bill Stark during one of these trips:


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aaron_wright
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #32 on: 12/25/13, 08:13 AM »

You may already know about the efforts in the early 1970s to locate a ski area on Mt Cashmere. I have some brief notes here:

http://alpenglow.org/ski-history/subjects/S-info.html#ski-areas-proposed

It's interesting that one of the key people behind this effort was Bill Stark, who was still a Boeing engineer at that time. Bill and his wife Peg later retired in Leavenworth and established the Scottish Lakes High Camp. They are also well known for their descriptive names in the Enchantment Lakes.

Here's a Bob and Ira Spring photo of one of their reconnaissance trips to Mt Cashmere, circa 1970:



And here's a nice photo of Bill Stark during one of these trips:



Yeah,  I was thinking about proposed areas when I posted.
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Andrew Carey
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #33 on: 12/25/13, 02:48 PM »

tragically, no one knows whether it will snow or not.

Check what the experts have to say (no reason to jump for joy):  Not much hope for snow
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Andy Carey, Nisqually Park, 3500 feet below Paradise
Markeyz
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #34 on: 12/26/13, 10:17 PM »

Statistics prove that roughly 50% of years will be below average.
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avajane
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #35 on: 12/27/13, 08:45 PM »

Thanks for the post Amar. I agree from my life experiences that this season is not over by a long shot. There have been tons of times that we have received  big dumps in March and even April that saved the snowpack. However, I have closely observed the last seven winters in the Blewitt area along hiway 97 and methinksI'mdone!  We have always gotten a couple of big dumps up here by now and we seldom get much later on in the winter. The has always been 2-4 feet of snow on my deck by this date (7 yrs in a row) and there is none right now! Low elevations are getting hammered this year and I think that there's a good chance the low areas on the east side may not recover. (Not that anyone much cares about the few eastsiders over here Smiley
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Jimmy Row
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #36 on: 12/28/13, 09:43 AM »

I hope global warming is the new Y2K and soon we will all be laughing about it while snorkeling through expansive fields of champagne powder.  Later we will complain about how we havent had a good tomato growing season in years!
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danpeck
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #37 on: 01/06/14, 11:12 AM »

Certainly a low snow year.  But there has also been some seriously fun skiing to be had if you look hard  Wink

Ski season kicks in to full gear for me usually in May when the days are long and long traverses in the alpine are ripe  Grin
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danpeck
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #38 on: 01/06/14, 11:16 AM »


Maybe it's time to start thinking about some trams to the alpine in the Cascades. Wouldn't a tram to Mt Cashmere be great? How about up to Spider Gap area?

I think Crystal and Paradise already provide good and quick and easy access to higher alpine areas no?  Let's leave spider gap and cashmere wild  Grin
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andybrnr
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #39 on: 01/07/14, 10:02 PM »

Amar/Andyrew,

Nice analysis, I was thinking about doing that right around the 15th... would be interesting to look at various lag correlations between the April 1 snowpack and earlier points throughout the season, and see if binning by el nino/la nina/la nada or below/normal/above April 1 snowpacks gave you different looking values. The sample size is unfortunately pretty small to do this in a really meaningful way, but there still might be something qualitative that pops out.

BScott,

Interesting Nature link... I don't have a good cite on hand for the PNW, but work by Mike Wallace at UW has shown that even for specific models, ensemble runs suggest that the regional evolution of climate has large variability to it in scenarios where the overall global mean AGW signal is pretty consistent from member to member. While the secular trend of AGW will be there, on a regional basis natural variability is a very large amplitude signal, and to a big extent, as Amar suggests, our near future is much more likely to be affected by the PDO phase.
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DG
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #40 on: 03/28/14, 12:51 PM »

Bumping this excellent post from early Winter for purposes of reflection.  If ever someone should be able to say "I told you so..."  Smiley
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Amar Andalkar
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Re: How unusual is the current low PNW snowpack?
« Reply #41 on: 03/28/14, 02:37 PM »

Bumping this excellent post from early Winter for purposes of reflection.  If ever someone should be able to say "I told you so..."  Smiley

Thanks, I was planning to post an update in this thread after the April 1 numbers came out and say just that! (Well, actually not to say that, but definitely to post some late-season numbers and analysis.)

It's nice when things work out this way, especially since it supports the historical data in the original analysis. And especially since it means that snowfall has been far above-normal from southwestern BC to northern Oregon over the last 3 months since the first real storm cycle of the season arrived on January 7, belatedly saving the ski season over that region. But the weather and climate are fickle, and it could have worked out very differently, if the unusually persistent ridge of high pressure off the West Coast had persisted longer, or rebuilt strongly again and again, as it did once for almost 2 weeks in late January. If there had been 3 weeks of high pressure in February instead of a huge 3-week storm cycle (including record-breaking snowfall in some locations on the east slopes of the Washington Cascades), things would be far less rosy right now and the snowpack would remain well below-normal throughout the Pacific Northwest.

And farther to our south, the season never did recover during winter, as the strongest systems either went by to the north or had snow levels above 8-9000 ft delivering torrents of rain instead of heavy snowfall. The snowpack situation in southern Oregon and all of California remains dire, still under 50% of normal in southern Oregon and 15-30% of normal in California. The current spring storm cycle (March 25-April ??,2014) may go a long way towards improving that with many feet of snow predicted in that area over the next week and beyond, but it is highly improbable that it will recover to anywhere near 100% of normal this season by either April 15 or May 1 (and significant snowfall rarely occurs in any part of that region after May 1 except at the highest elevations). It could happen, but chances are very slim.

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