Climate change could impact winter recreation

ASHLAND, Ore. — The latest report on climate change shows major impacts to our way of life in the Pacific Northwest.

Hotter temperatures contributing to drought and rising sea levels, threatening our forests and coastlines, experts warn the impacts could take a major toll on local economies.

One of the authors of the report, Philip Mote, is a researcher at Oregon State University. He said the key to our future requires a look to the past, back to 2015 specifically.

That year marked the warmest year on record in the Pacific Northwest, and the year snowpack levels were the lowest on record. He said if we don’t do something to reduce our greenhouse gases, years like 2015 might become the norm by the end of century.

“There isn’t one magic stopping point that if we go beyond that all hope is lost, but there are all sorts of climate surprises that await us and we’ll get of them the more we change the climate,” Mote said. He said one of the biggest changes he’s seen since he’s started working on these reports some 20 years ago is the frequency and size of wildfires.

Another concern in the report is the impact the change in weather may have on winter recreation.

The impact of a drought locally is widespread from businesses being able to operate, to something as simple as drinking water.

It’s certainly a cause for concern for places like Mt. Ashland, where the non-profit ski area has been unable to open in years past, due to no snow.

Even with rain in the Rogue Valley and snow up on Mt. Ashland, that doesn’t mean we’ll see a white winter this year.

According to the fourth National Climate Assessment released in late November, drought, something thought of mostly as a summer problem, can have a major impact on snowpack levels in the winter.

The report says climate change could decrease snow-based recreation revenue by  more than 70 percent annually in the Northwest, harshly affecting areas like Mt. Ashland.

But officials on the mountain said they’re prepared.

“We’re ready for the roller coaster ride,” said Mt. Ashland Ski Area General Manager, Hiram Towle. “We’re not deniers and we’re not afraid to talk about climate change, it’s the most important thing to us because we rely on weather for our business.”

Towle said they’re already seeing the impact of climate change, but are staying on their toes.

“As folks know, we’ve proven time and time again that we’re willing to adapt,” he said.

They’re adding more snow fences, low snow decks, anything they can to try and prepare for a low snow season.

National Weather Service meteorologist, Brian Nieuwenhuis, said the decreased snowpack has a greater impact on the amount of yearly water supply, which supports things like drinking water and agriculture.

“The snowpack is our bigger reservoir. It by far exceeds anything, any man-made lake that we have,” Nieuwenhuis said, saying we’re still seeing the effects of last year’s season. “This year they turned of the irrigation water to some of our local irrigation districts early because the lakes were so low, because we didn’t have the snowpack this year.”

Right now, southern Oregon sits at “severe to extreme” on the drought meter, a concern for Towle.

“We see that as a major problem not just for us but the entire community,” he said.

The National Weather Service says we could get out of drought this winter by having cold enough temperatures to keep the snowpack around long into the spring, and possibly even the summer.


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