Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

California's snow not disappearing despite drought

Date:
March 12, 2012
Source:
University of Alabama Huntsville
Summary:
During some winters a significant amount of snow falls on parts of California. During other winters — like this one (so far) — there is much less snow. But more than 130 years of snow data show that over time snowfall in California is neither increasing nor decreasing.

During some winters a significant amount of snow falls on parts of California. During other winters -- like this one (so far) -- there is much less snow. But more than 130 years of snow data show that over time snowfall in California is neither increasing nor decreasing.

Related Articles


The analysis of snowfall data from as far back as 1878 found no long-term trend in how much snow falls in the state, especially in the critical western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, said John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville.

"There isn't a trend significantly different from zero for the whole period," Christy said. "I also looked at just the past 50 years and there is no trend over this recent stretch either."

Details of Christy's research have been accepted for publication and released on-line by the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Hydrometeorology.

This line of research was spurred by recent concerns that snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains had decreased in recent years, perhaps due to humanmade climate change, Christy said. Those worries, however, were not supported by credible, long-term data.

A native of Fresno, Christy wondered if the snow he remembered covering the Sierra Nevada's peaks is actually disappearing. His preliminary investigation found a potentially useful set of data: Records of snow measurements at stations along the Southern Pacific Railroad.

"They took great care to measure snowfall because they had to know how much snow fell before sending trains through the mountain passes," Christy said. "No one else had looked at this data in detail. The records are pretty thorough and the measuring tools -- a device resembling a tall, sturdy yardstick -- are easy to use and obviously don't need power, so there aren't many gaps in the record."

There was, however, one catch: "They were good at measuring snow but the data they collected in written records had never been keyed in into a computer dataset. Before I could do the analysis I had to manually input 100,000 station-months of data."

The railroad data was coupled with data from other sources, including hydro-power and regional water systems vitally interested in knowing how much water would be available from snow melt. Other data was collected from logging and mining companies, as well as National Weather Service stations and volunteers. That data had already been digitized by the National Climatic Data Center.

Christy divided the state into 18 regions, based on the amount of snow that falls and on the quality of the records for that region.

"There are six or seven regions with good, robust data going back to the late 1800s," he said. "In each of those there are five to 15 stations with good records."

Global warming theory says rising temperatures might reduce snowfall in some areas, while snow might increase in others. That sounds counterintuitive, but it does make sense: At lower, warmer elevations rising temperatures raise the altitude of the snow line, potentially reducing snow fall at lower elevations.

Warmer air also can hold more water vapor than cold air, so rising temperatures should increase the amount of water vapor available for snow and other precipitation.

In high elevation mountain regions where winter temperatures would be below freezing even if they rise two or three degrees, snow would still fall. Those still-cold temperatures combined with the extra water vapor suspended in the warmer air could increase snowfall at higher altitudes.

That's the theory.

Looking at both the 130-year record and the most recent 50-year record -- which includes the 1975 to 2000 period when global temperatures rose -- the California data show no long-term changes in snowfall in any region.

"California has huge year-to-year variations and that's expected to continue," said Christy, a graduate of Fresno State University. "California is having a snow drought so far this winter, while last year the state had much heavier than normal snowfall. But over the long term, there just isn't a trend up or down.

"Not to be a scaremonger, but if you go back and look at the paleoclimate reconstructions for the past thousand years, there have been some colossal droughts lasting 50 years or more," he said. "Those have not been around since the 1400s, although nothing we know about climate science says they can't come back -- global warming or not."

In earlier research, Christy also showed no long-term warming in the Sierra Nevada mountains.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alabama Huntsville. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. John R. Christy. Searching for information in 133 years of California snowfall observations. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 2012; 120127130754006 DOI: 10.1175/JHM-D-11-040.1

Cite This Page:

University of Alabama Huntsville. "California's snow not disappearing despite drought." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 March 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120312101449.htm>.
University of Alabama Huntsville. (2012, March 12). California's snow not disappearing despite drought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120312101449.htm
University of Alabama Huntsville. "California's snow not disappearing despite drought." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120312101449.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) The pair of rare white northern rhinos bring hope for their species as only six remain in the world. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trick-or-Treating Banned Because of Polar Bears

Trick-or-Treating Banned Because of Polar Bears

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Mother Nature is pulling a trick on the kids of Arviat, Canada. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) tells us, the effects of global warming caused the town to ban trick-or-treating this Halloween. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins