Corporate Press Frets That North America Is Losing Snow. There’s Just One Problem

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Nick Pope Contributor
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Numerous corporate media outlets have recently published stories asserting that snow is disappearing in North America because of climate change, but data derived directly from government statistics appears to contradict that notion.

Bloomberg News, CNN and The Washington Post have all published stories in the new year suggesting that climate change is increasingly relegating snow to the annals of history. While the outlets reference a new study published in Nature, a leading scientific journal, that found North American snowpack has declined over the last several decades, data from Rutgers University’s Global Snow Lab shows that there has been a clear upward trend in snow cover on the continent since 1967.

“Snow varies every year. Are there going to be differences? Yes, but so what?” Steve Milloy, a senior legal fellow for the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The media is only intentionally going to report stuff that is consistent with the narrative. Once again, even if there is reduced snowpack, you can’t look at variations across time and space and attribute those to emissions. … Until you can show that emissions are causing whatever is happening, then you really have nothing.”

“If the science was settled, these guys would be able to predict what is going to happen every year. But of course, they can’t,” Milloy added.

Bloomberg headlined their Wednesday story “World Nears Dangerous Climate Tipping Point With Snow In Short Supply,” while CNN’s Wednesday headline led with “Snow is disappearing as the planet warms.” Meanwhile, the Post’s headline read “We’re in danger of falling off a ‘snow loss cliff.’ Here’s what that means.” (RELATED: NOAA Throws Cold Water On Media Hysteria Over Earth’s ‘Three Hottest Days On Record’)

While the study posits that snowpack is generally decreasing in North America and globally, it also found that snowpack has increased in some regions since 1981.

Rutgers University’s statistics, meanwhile, focus on North America and are derived directly from data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Rutgers data shows a clear upward trend in North American snow extent over the past six decades; 2023 saw more North American land area covered snow than at least 35 prior years going back to 1967.

Snowpack is difficult to quantify accurately because there is no single accepted metric that has been tracked for a long time, and existing information derived from data ground observations, satellites and other climate models often suggest conflicting messages on the relationship between anthropogenic climate change and snowpack; all three outlets acknowledge this in their reporting. Scientists have long struggled to make connections between climate change and snowpack for this reason, so the study analyzes several different datasets and models to inform its findings.

“Pretty much regardless of which of these snow datasets you look at, even though they don’t necessarily agree with one another, we see a pattern of snow change that is only consistent with human emissions,” Alexander Gottlieb, a PhD candidate at Dartmouth University who authored the study alongside Dartmouth climate scientist Justin Mankin, told CNN. “Policymakers need to act now — to cut planet-warming emissions, and to adapt to a world with less snow,” Mankin told the Post.

The authors, both in their study and in comments included in all three outlets’ coverage, assert that the globe is teetering on a “snow-loss cliff” scenario, whereby small increases in temperature at the margin could lead to increasingly significant losses of snow in the future. The study warns that snowpack loss hastens when a location’s average winter temperature rises above approximately 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

Despite potential blind spots or flaws in the study’s methodology, each outlet found ways to highlight that a range of unpleasant outcomes may await the world if climate change pushes the globe over the “snow-loss cliff.”

Going over the brink laid out in theory by the study would be “a huge problem for communities that depend on snow for water,” CNN wrote in its story. “Many of the world’s water supplies are already threatened by climate change through drought and heat waves that are becoming more frequent and intense. As the planet continues to warm, the study found that many highly populated areas that rely on snow are going to see increased losses in water availability over the next few decades.”

“In California this year, the first snow survey of the season found snow depth well below average, and the researchers project that snow loss will only accelerate as temperatures warm,” the Post wrote in its story on the study. “Although the researchers focused on the impact of snow loss on water supply, there are other implications — for local economies that rely on snow for recreation and tourism and for ecosystems that have historically been protected by snow from blight and pests.”

A major winter storm system has dumped snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains in California this week; approximately 33 inches have fallen on the state’s famous Lake Tahoe ski resort this week alone, according to the resort.

“Less snow cover exposes native plants to harsher winter conditions, like windburn, which can affect how well they grow in spring and reduce habitat for wolverines to build their dens at lower elevations, to take just two examples,” Bloomberg wrote in its piece.

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