Monday, February 15, 2016

Less Snow, More Rain During The Winter In Most Of The Nation

In early February, there's usually a lot of snow
on the ground at my northwestern Vermont home.
But as you can see here, I was building
a small stone wall and putting in good soil
for a perennial garden on February 4.
It rained a little that day, too, bolstering
the notion that more winter storms are
bringing rain, not snow.
Hot on the heels of one of the most intense (but brief) New England February cold snaps in recent memory, a storm is coming.

Yeehah! That means powder day at the ski resorts, right?  It's cold, so that means snow, doesn't it?

Um, no.

Oh sure, this storm will bring some snow. As noted elsewhere on this blog, precipitation with with the storm will start as snow tonight night and Tuesday.

However, on Tuesday, in much of the Northeast, all the way up in the Adirodacks in in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, the snow will change to sleet, freezing rain, and then rain on Tuesday.

This storm is bringing quite a surge of warm air with it.

It's been that way this winter. And to be real, more rain and less snow has been a trend in most of the nation in recent years and decades.

Oh sure, there's still blockbuster snowstorms, like the Mid-Atlantic blizzard in late January and the immense snow siege in eastern New England and southeastern Canada last winter.

But the trend is for more rain, and less snow in general.

Climate Central crunched the data on winter precipitation by looking at 2,121 weather stations where snow is a pretty routine occurence in the winter.

At these weather stations, they looked at the number of days with precipitation in the months where they typically get snowstorms totalling one inch or greater. That includes mid-winter, and in places where it happens, snowfalls in the late autumn and early spring - the so-called shoulder seasons.

Overall, the Climate Central analysis found that 55 percent of these weather stations showed a decrease in winter precipitation falling as snow.

The greatest drop offs were in those shoulder seasons of late autumm and early spring. That makes sense. Temperatures are normally more marginal for snow then than in the depths of winter, so on balance it takes less of a temperature change in the fall and spring to switch snow over to rain.

It doesn't strike me as any one particular region of the country saw the steepest dropoff in snowy days in favor of rain.

The states with the greatest percentages of their weather stations seeing more snowy season rains are, in order, Oregon, Iowa, New Hampshire, Washington and Kansas, says Climate Central.

The implications of this, of course, are that ski resorts and winter sports enthusiasts suffer because of this.

So do tourist-dependent governments.

Here where I live in Vermont, the warm, relatively snow-free winter we've been having are starting to create budget problems for the state.

"This isn't looking good for us," said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin last week, reports NECN. "The mountains are struggling. Our receipts - our tax receipts - are seeing a direct hit from the fact that we're not bringing 4 million skiers in this year. We're bringing in a lesser amount. That could change, but it's got to change mighty fast."

Luckily, last winter in Vermont was kind of snowy and the ski season went well then. But the Vermont legislature is already dealing with a tight budget, and the drop in rooms and meals taxes, amd sales taxes this winter is going to hurt.

Plus, if this trend of less and less snowy winters continues, Vermont and other winter tourism-dependent states will really need to find a new revenue source and/or cut spending further.

In the West, many areas depend upon the slow trickle of snow melt during the spring and summer from the mountains for their water needs. But if more precipitation falls as rain, all that water will run off the mountains in the winter, rather than summer.

Some reservoirs can catch that winter rain instead of waiting for the summer snow melt. But other reservoirs don't have that capacity. That means a water storage headache for much of that region.

Less snow means the ground turns bare in the western mountains earlier in the spring. Which means the land dries earlier and more completely in the spring and summer, leading to an increased risk of wild fires.

That was part of the problem last summer. There wasn't much snow in the western mountains, it melted early, setting the stage for a long, destructive season of wildfires.

Some people hate snow, but even if you hate it, consider it a necessary evil. And things could become more evil if the trend line for less and less snow continues.

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