Dr. John Christy: “no-significant-trend” in S. Sierra snowfall since 1916

While there’s always lots of worry in California and Nevada over water supplies driven by the Sierra snowpack, and wailing in the MSM over what global warming will do to the snowpack, there doesn’t seem to be any trend, up or down.

John Christy has provided me with his latest paper, just published in E&E. I’m been authorized by him to present it here. In this case, no news is good news.



John R. Christy

Justin J. Hnilo

Earth System Science Center

University of Alabama in Huntsville


A time series (1916–2009) of annual snowfall totals for Huntington Lake (HL, elev.

2141 m) in the southern Sierra Nevada of California is reconstructed. A

reconstruction is (a) necessary because HL data after 1972 are mostly missing and

(b) possible because nearby stations reveal high correlations with HL, two above

0.90. The results show mean annual snowfall in HL is 624 cm with an insignificant

trend of +0.5 cm (+0.08%) ±13.1 cm decade−1. Similar positive but insignificant

trends for spring snowfall were also calculated. Annual stream flow and

precipitation trends for the region again were insignificantly positive for the same

period. Snow-water-equivalent comparisons, measured on 1 Apr since 1930 at

26 sites and since 1950 at 45, show similar small, mostly positive, and insignificant

trends. These results combined with published temperature time series, which also

reveal no significant trends, form a consistent picture of no remarkable long-term

changes in the snowfall of this area and elevation of the southern Sierra Nevada of

California since the early 20th century.


Paleo-reconstructions of western U.S. precipitation indicate significant periods of

drought and surplus with relatively high multi-decadal variability (e.g. Meko et al.

2007). Could the region be entering a period of reduced precipitation, with a reduction

in snowfall in the mountains, perhaps as dry as that estimated from 12th century treerings (Meko et al 2007)? In terms of recent trends, Mote et al. 2005 found mostly

upward trends in snow water equivalent in the southern Sierra for the period limited to

1950–1997 (48 years, or about half of the current study). They found positive trends as

well in the southern Rocky Mountain region, while poleward of approximately 38°N

there were widespread declines.

Barnett et al. 2008 indicate that for 1950–1999 most of the Western U.S. snowyregions show warming temperatures and earlier peak runoff, suggesting a trend towardless snow and more rain. This could be an ominous development for water resourceplanners as the mountain snowmelt, both its quantity and timing, provides a majorresource on which municipal, industrial and agricultural systems rely.

We shall examine snowfall itself because it is a vital metric to understand since it is critical for businesses and operations related to snow (winter sports, road clearing, etc.) as well as

snow-dependent ecological systems.

The question we will examine is whether a tendency in snowfall in the Southern

Sierra Nevada (So. Sierra) is detectable. The So. Sierra are important for many

reasons including their location as one of the most southern mountain ranges in the

U.S. with significant water resource impacts and thus potentially an early indicator of

climate change since modeled changes show significant warming here due to

enhanced greenhouse gas concentrations (e.g. Snyder et al. 2002). Mote et al. 2005

examined only 48 years of data and Barnett et al. 2008 only 50 years, but both found

a slight upward trend in water-resource availability in the So. Sierra. In an earlier

study of snow water equivalent (SWE) measured on 1 Apr of each year, Howat and

Tulaczyk 2005 found no trend in SWE for 177 snow courses.

However, by subtracting 1 Apr from 1 Mar SWE there appeared to be a small gain (loss) in Δ SWE for 1950–2002 at the higher (lower) elevations along with insignificant increases in water volume for Nov–Mar. The implication here is that over a shorter period of time,

the SWE contours on 1 Apr have risen in elevation. However, while extremely

valuable as a water resource index for late-spring and summer runoff, SWE on 1 Apr

often misrepresents the actual total snowfall during the cold season as early snows

may have melted by this time and later snows are not included (see examples later).

We shall look at annual snowfall as a different, though obviously related, climate

metric relative to SWE.

Has snowfall changed over a longer period in the mid-elevation (∼2000 m) of the

So. Sierra? This question has links to our previous study of the So. Sierra in which

seasonal maximum (TMax) and minimum (TMin) temperatures were produced

(Christy et al. 2006). The wet-season (Dec-May) temperature trends for 1910–2003

were not significantly different from zero (TMax +0.08, TMin −0.01 °C decade−1),

suggesting that if precipitation trends were near zero, then snowfall might also show

little change. Indeed, an examination of annual “water year” (Jul – Jun) precipitation

totals for this region’s climate division indicates a trend of +0.2% decade−1 (1916–2009)

while that of the nearest long term station (Fresno) shows +2.7% decade−1. Thus a

look at a longer snowfall record, and attendant variables such as runoff, is one way to

examine consistency, at least obliquely, to the temperature record.


With the available data from six mid-elevation stations in the Southern Sierra region of

California we reconstructed annual snowfall totals for 36 missing years of the

Huntington Lake record to complete the time series (1916–2009). The standard error

of the missing years is calculated to be ±36 cm, or 6% of the 94-year annual mean of

624 cm in the most robust estimation method (though we utilized the average of six

methods which reduces the standard error further.)

The results of both the annual and spring snowfall time series indicate no

remarkable changes for the 1916–2009 period in the basins drained by the Merced, San

Joaquin, Kings and Kaweah Rivers. In the six reconstructions the range of trend results

varied only slightly from −0.3% to +0.6 % decade−1. With a consensus trend of only

+0.5 cm (+0.08%) decade−1 ±13.1 cm decade−1 there is high confidence in the

“no-significant-trend” result. The corroborating information on temperature trends

(Christy et al. 2006), stream flow, precipitation and shorter period snow water

equivalent trends presented here are consistent with “no-significant-trend” in So. Sierra

snowfall near 2000m elevation since 1916.


Paper (PDF) is here:


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
July 24, 2010 5:06 pm

The theory is that global warming means the end of snow. It also means more snow. If you average the two together, you get no change in snow.
In other words, global warming theory is complete garbage – which can be used to prove any result.

Ed Caryl
July 24, 2010 6:07 pm

One more nail in the Calamitology coffin.

R. de Haan
July 24, 2010 6:10 pm

A must read for Energy Secretary Steven Chu who made dire predictions about Californian drought and AGW.

July 24, 2010 6:11 pm

It sure is hard to go up against “cataclysmic climate change!” with; “Nothing unusual…”
Thanks Professor Spencer. Eventually, reality will overwhelm them. I hope…

July 24, 2010 6:12 pm

Too many facts for me. Can’t you folks realise you are not “in the money” on this little number. Look at Al, George, Henry Paulsen, James,et al. They are “in the money”.
Sheez, keep the facts for a dinner table.
(bloody cool here in Southern Oz. back to the 70’s I’d suggest)

Henry chance
July 24, 2010 6:23 pm

Joe Romms says heat and permanent drought.
That of course was January last year. They back peddled and now “re-frame” it as climate change instead of mere warming.
It appears that if they are wrong and/or have no evidence to support an assertion, they now just say the “Messaging” must be reframed.
We used to say that is putting a spin on it.

July 24, 2010 6:54 pm

Kudos to Christy and Hnilo. Well done.
I have, however, a great temptation to say “been there, done that.” In 2008 I did a study of maximum winter snowpack in the Snake River watershed, which drains 108,000 square miles in parts of six U.S. states.
Christy and Hnilo examined the snowfall records for stations in the southern Sierras from Mariposa County in the north to Kern County in the south, a much smaller area. They used six snotel that met “a minimal set of standards (consistent observations for at least 35 years)”. I used the 20 longest, continuously measured snotel records from 3 US Army Corps of Engineers databases containing 745 snotel records from the Snake River watershed. Of those 20 selected, the shortest record was 75 years long.
But we found the same thing: no significant trend in snowpack.
Christy and Hnilo got their researched published in a peer-reviewed journal. I did not even make the attempt but instead self-published (see link above). They probably got paid to do their research. I did not.
But none of that is important. What matters is that the information is finally coming out. No trend in snowpack. Snow alarmists are requested to please stop ringing the alarm bells; there is nothing to get panicked about.

Douglas DC
July 24, 2010 7:33 pm

Mike D. I flew all of that watershed for the Army Corps as a contract snowpack
pilot back in the 70’s and early 80’s very ,very,familiar with the Snake and its
companion rivers. A year or two of variance and people panic. This spring in
NE Oregon the Powers that be were screaming “Hellp! Gaia Sexpo er, Profit
savve us!!” The skies opened in the Spring and it all changed-still blaming
an AGW Generated El Nino ….
Even the cold…

July 24, 2010 7:35 pm

I didn’t see a trend in the graph but it looks to me like the peaks in the highs have a regular period.

Bill Jamison
July 24, 2010 8:13 pm

As a snowboarder this is fascinating. The 2009-2010 snow season was a good one in the Sierra Nevada (thanks El Nino!) and really helped replenish reservoirs throughout California just when things looked bleak.

July 24, 2010 8:33 pm

Oh Hum… fortunately people will start noticing no trends anywhere in any climatic parameter (unless you can live foe 1000 years or more).. so unfortunately this site and all other climatic sites hopefully will come to an end and we can all stop looking at silly temperature and ice graphs (its a bit like recording your heart beat.. it will not change… LOL)

July 24, 2010 8:43 pm

R. de Haan says:
July 24, 2010 at 6:10 pm
A must read for Energy Secretary Steven Chu who made dire predictions about Californian drought and AGW.

Does anyone think Chu and Holdren and the rest of the Alarmists in the Obama administration, not to mention the fools like Waxman, Markey, and Kerry in the Congress, will pay any attention to studies like this? Not so long as there is political and financial hay (i.e. taxes) to be made out of the ‘climate change’ scam.
Stick this paper under their noses, and the reaction will be predictable: “Oh, just more rubbish from the denialist Neanderthals and their big-oil buddies.”
What I want to know is when will “the loyal opposition” stop just carping about raising taxes in a recession and denounce Crap and Tax and the rest of the ‘climate change’ hysteria as the phony baloney it really is. The Republicans (except for the admirable Senator Inhofe) are still afraid to touch the third rail of ‘environmental’ correctness.
/Mr Lynn

Don B
July 24, 2010 9:17 pm

Over at Tom Nelson’s place he wonders if everyplace can really be warming much faster than everyplace else. 🙂

Amino Acids in Meteorites
July 24, 2010 9:25 pm

The data looks like all other climate data I’ve seen—nothing unusual is happening. Everything is carrying on like it always has.

July 24, 2010 9:26 pm

This is the paper that Christy complained about not being able to get published last fall in the wake of Climategate. Thankfully NPR interviewed the editor of one of the rejecting journals. His answer: we’ve already published ~10 papers on this and his findings are not new.
It was basically rejected because it was boring. But that probably explains why E&E published it.

July 24, 2010 9:29 pm

And to add a measure of poignancy, here’s a news story which reveals that the snows of a certain French mountain haven’t much melted.
In fact, just recently some of the mail from a 1950’s plane crash on Mont Blanc, is just now being recovered:

Doug in Seattle
July 24, 2010 9:46 pm

I sincerely hope that E&E’s reputation within the greater science community has risen as result of what was revealed in the CRU emails.
The concerted effort by Mann and the others who worked so hard over the past ten years to trash any journal or editor that didn’t sing with the IPCC chorus was the worst of the “standard climate science” behavior revealed.
I also hope that the fact that Christie has published with E&E is not an indication that the ban on publishing articles by “Black Listed” researchers has not been lifted.

July 24, 2010 10:18 pm

I must beg you to cite those ten peer reviewed papers that claim snow packs are unchanged over the past century. Clearly the world (and particularly the MSM which always looks for balance) has missed them and should be set straight by your knowledge in this areana.

July 24, 2010 10:27 pm

I think you misunderstood [Mr.] Goddard. When they said the famous line: “Our children will not know what snow is…” they didn’t actually mean those children they meant the “other set of our children” . Clearly our set of children will be playing in snow for decades to come. Hope I cleared that up for you. 😉

July 25, 2010 1:11 am

Thankfully NPR interviewed the editor of one of the rejecting journals. His answer: we’ve already published ~10 papers on this and his findings are not new.
It was basically rejected because it was boring. But that probably explains why E&E published it.

Yet, AGW believers claim consensus based on the number of “independent” studies published about a subject.

July 25, 2010 1:22 am

Seems to sort of confirm what James Overland was saying recently http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100611093710.htm . I always think that if almost everyone criticises an new idea it may have merit.

Mikael Pihlström
July 25, 2010 4:08 am

Doug in Seattle says:
July 24, 2010 at 9:46 pm
I sincerely hope that E&E’s reputation within the greater science community has risen as result of what was revealed in the CRU emails.

No, E&E is still a joke, I am afraid

July 25, 2010 5:42 am

My comment should have been attributed to Dr Christy! Although Dr Spencer deserves all the accolades he gets!
I really need to catch up on some sleep…

July 25, 2010 6:56 am

Dr Christy and MikeD thank you for your careful and patient work on the Sierra snow pack.
It is good news to us non-climate scientists to know that the Sierra snow pack is not melting precipitously even if the news itself is not sensational – it is interesting to note and reassuring.

Jim Barker
July 25, 2010 7:53 am

MikeA says:
July 25, 2010 at 1:22 am
Seems to sort of confirm what James Overland was saying recently http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100611093710.htm . I always think that if almost everyone criticises an new idea it may have merit.
Criticized for saying ”
“Irreversible change
The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet. This is known as Arctic amplification — a much debated phenomenon at the IPY-OSC, where 2400 polar scientists have gathered to discuss the huge amount of research and new findings which are the direct result of the International Polar Year.
The changes are happening a great deal faster than the scientific community expected. Given the recent reduction of the area of multi-year sea ice and reduced ice thickness, it is unlikely that the Arctic can return to its previous condition.
“The changes are irreversible,” says Dr Overland.”
Where have we heard this before? Normal is not irreversible.

Bob Shapiro
July 25, 2010 7:59 am

I love how Dr. Christy uses both “Robust” and “Consensus” in this nature-as-usual, anti-alarmist paper.

July 25, 2010 8:07 am

Here’s a link to the NPR story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120846593 for those who don’t believe me.

Gail Combs
July 25, 2010 9:24 am

MikeA says:
July 25, 2010 at 1:22 am
Seems to sort of confirm what James Overland was saying recently http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100611093710.htm . I always think that if almost everyone criticises an new idea it may have merit.
Actually studies were done and papers were written on that topic by J. Scott Armstrong
Plain Prose: It’s Seldom Seen in Journals: Written by Dick Pothier: From the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 23, 1982.
“If you want to publish an article in some scientific or medical journal, here is some unusual advice from Scott Armstrong, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: Choose an unimportant topic. Agree with existing beliefs. Use convoluted methods. Withhold some of your data. And write the whole thing in stilted, obtuse prose….
…obscure writing helps those who have little to say. And having little to say may also be an advantage, especially if the author withholds some significant data. “This will allow the researcher to continue publishing slightly different versions of the same research,” which Armstrong says is a common practice…”

A list of Armstrong’s papers is here The papers of interest are the earlier papers and start at about 150 such as :
This paper, a real laugh:
171. J. Scott Armstrong (1980), Bafflegab Pays
, Psychology Today, 12
“If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” Simply put, this is the advice that J. Scott Armstrong, a marketing professor at the Wharton School, coolly gives his fellow academics these days. It is based on his studies confirming what he calls the Dr. Fox hypothesis: “An unintelligible communication from a legitimate source in the recipient’s area of expertise will increase the recipient’s rating of the author’s competence.”
Eight years ago, Dr. Myron L. Fox gave a celebrated one-hour talk, followed by a half- hour discussion period, on “Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education.” His audiences were professional groups, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and educators; afterward, on anonymous questionnaires, they said they found the lecture clear and stimulating.
Fox, in short, was a smashing success. He was also a complete phony—a professional actor whom three researchers had told to make up a lecture of double-talk, patching raw material from a Scientific American article into nonsequiturs and contradictory statements interspersed with jokes and meaningless references to unrelated topics…..

Or this paper on the theory: There are no SEERS there are only SUCKERS.
174. J. Scott Armstrong (1980), The Seer-Sucker Theory: The Value of Experts in Forecasting, Technology Review, June/July, 16-24
“Assume for a moment that the seer-sucker theory is true – that expertise is useless in forecasting change. Is there any rational explanation for why clients continue to purchase worthless information?
One explanation is that the client is not interested in accuracy, but only in avoiding responsibility. A client who calls in the best wizard available avoids blame if the forecasts are inaccurate….
… Another possibility is that researchers find it easier to publish evidence refuting than confirming the common notion that expertise is useful. However, in light of a 1977 study by Michael Mahoney, this possibility seems remote. Mahoney asked 75 re viewers to referee a paper. Two versions of the paper were presented to randomly selected subsamples of reviewers. The papers differed only in the results: one version had results favoring the common wis dom of the day and the other refuted it. A strong bias was found toward accepting the study that agreed with a commonly held hypothesis and rejecting the one that contradicted this hypothesis.”

Dr Armstrong’s papers are a gold mine when it comes to refuting the “peer-reviewed” superiority complex seen in AGW circles today.

Doug in Seattle
July 25, 2010 12:53 pm

Rattus Norvegicus says:
July 25, 2010 at 8:07 am
Here’s a link to the NPR story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120846593 for those who don’t believe me.

It is not about whether I believe you, a self described rodent, it is about whether NPR should be considered a fair and reliable source of information on any topic that involves politics.
NPR generally tries to put a fair face on their reporting, but it is quite difficult for NPR to portray non-leftist information when its listeners write such nasty responses to any story where they exercise balance. Singing to the choir is just so much easier.
This same problem exists for most media, including right leaning FOX. The difference is that FOX is pretty much alone, with other outlets quite solidly on the left and preaching to their choir.

July 25, 2010 2:19 pm

I realise that I failed to point out that James Overland has raised the possibility of snowier winters for the northern hemisphere. I forgot that the normal stuff about the ice melting might be controversial. He is predicting a snowier east coast USA and I was guessing the many places would remain in balance, such s S.Sierra.

July 25, 2010 4:06 pm

I always cringe, when I hear the term “prove” or “proof” associated with anything of a scientific nature. There is no such thing in science. The terms “prove” and “proof” should only be referred to in matters of mathematics or logic.

July 25, 2010 4:25 pm

I phrased that last improperly. Perhaps old age is creeping up on me. I should have said, “matters of logic, [b]such as[/b] mathematics”.

July 27, 2010 11:10 am

Wouldn’t the first “trends” show up in areas currently occupied by jet streams or where jet streams have historically been?

July 27, 2010 3:23 pm

Snowpack and water supply are outstanding this year.

%d bloggers like this: