The snowpack this year in the Sierra Nevada soared to 170% of normal: just two years ago at the annual measuring date at the end of March (attended by Governor Brown) it stood at 5%.
This extreme variability of the California climate will become routine this century argues researcher Daniel Swain of UCLA.
Here’s my story on his appearance tomorrow in Ojai, at the Krotona Institute.
“If you zoom in on the models and take into account the highly varying topography and the diminishing snow cover, you find that the Sierra Nevadas are actually going to warm much more than we [scientists] thought this century,” he said. “Temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees at some locations in the mountains.”
The March study, by Neil Berg and Alex Hall at UCLA, warns that droughts could all but eliminate the snowpack in the mountains on which California depends for water storage. The authors conclude, “Going forward, it is likely to become more difficult to store and manage municipal, agricultural and ecological water needs within a warmer climate, especially during periods of extreme drought.”
This could challenge the State Water Project, which depends on the slow melting of the Sierra snowpack to keep farmers in water through the long summers. Swain thinks that people are begining to understand the need to adapt to climate change, but he still thinks that even scientists have been slow to recognize how quickly the state is moving toward a polarization of the climate.
“It really is the extremes that matter now in California,” he said. “We already have seen patterns of extreme wetness and extreme dryness in recent years despite the fact we haven’t seen a significant change in the long-term annual mean [for rain and snow]. I argue that when it comes to precipitation in California, it’s not that the average doesn’t matter, it’s that the extremes matter much more.”
Swain has become famous for his remarkable California Weather Blog . Here’s a recent image he posted, of “wave number six” making its way around the world, altering weather patterns as it goes. Reading his blog offers a way for civilians to find their way into an understanding of meteorology and climate science.