Snowpack peaks early

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Jonathan P. Thompson
Apr 7
Ute Mountain in late March (left) and early April (right). The snow’s going fast. Source: sentinel-hub.com

There’s a saying around these parts: He who tries to predict the weather is either a fool or from out of town. I’m not from out of town, but I am going to make a prediction. So I guess that makes me … well, you know. But really, I’m not stepping out onto a very fragile limb to say that the snowpack in the Southwest (and beyond) hit its peak on April 1, which is on par with recent years but a week or two earlier than the 40-year norm (and the 40-year norm is earlier than the norm for the previous 40 years, and so on). And all of that is in line with what researchers have been finding, repeatedly: A warming climate is shrinking—both in space and time—the vast reservoir known as the mountain snowpack. And that will have dire consequences for the water supplies of the Western United States. 

That’s not to say that it won’t snow again this spring. It will, surely. But the likelihood of it snowing enough to offset the rapid melt, the result of record breaking high-temperatures region-wide, is extremely slim. NWS Salt Lake City @NWSSaltLakeCityThis is an impressive list of record temperatures yesterday, April 4th. #utwx #wywx April 5th 20219 Retweets40 Likes

Remember last week when I wrote about the way yukigata, the snow-pattern planting calendars, are disappearing earlier and earlier thanks to climate change? And how I said that most of the West’s yukigata were still sticking around? Not for long. Check out how quickly the blanket of snow on Ute Mountain in southwest Colorado is going away (in opening photo above).

But just because the snow’s melting fast, doesn’t mean it can’t slide, bury, and kill a person. It can and, most likely, it will. This winter just became the deadliest avalanche season since 1950 for the United States as a whole with 37 dead so far. Twelve have died in Colorado, which ties the 70-year record. 

Source: Colorado Avalanche Information Center

As a postscript, an even more dramatic picture of snowmelt. This is Mt. Taylor in New Mexico on March 27 and April 6:

Source: Sentinel-hub.com

Thanks for subscribing to The Land Desk, a thrice-weekly newsletter from Jonathan P. Thompson, longtime journalist and author of River of Lost SoulsBehind the Slickrock Curtain, and the forthcoming Sagebrush Empire. This post is public, so feel free to share it.

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