Gotta Admire The Chutzpah

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

The abstract of a new study from Science Magazine entitled “The Unusual Nature of Recent Snowpack Declines in the North American Cordillera”, Gregory Pederson et al., 9 June 2011 (paywalled, all data available here, figures here, overview here) opens by saying:

In western North America snowpack has declined in recent decades, and further losses are projected through the 21st century.

The abstract goes on to describe their findings:

Over the past millennium, late-20th century snowpack reductions are almost unprecedented in magnitude across the northern Rocky Mountains, and in their north-south synchrony across the cordillera.

Figure 1. The future of skiing in the North American Rocky Mountains? Eric Lon, rock skiing

And the culprit, the Grinch stealing the white Christmas? Why, us fools who ate the fossil-fuel-fertilized apple and got ourselves thrown out of climate Eden, of course. Or in their words,

Both the snowpack declines and their synchrony result from unparalleled springtime warming due to positive reinforcement of the anthropogenic warming by decadal variability.

First, kudos to the authors for archiving their data and meta-data at the time of the publication of their work. This is an excellent example of providing the necessary information so that others can investigate their results.

Now, about those results …

I’ve mentioned that the first thing that I want to look at is the actual data. While they didn’t exactly provide that, they did provide the standardized data for the two regions that they studied, the “Northern Cordillera” and the “Southern Cordillera”. (To “standardize” data, it is adjusted so that the average is zero and the standard deviation is 1. This allows the comparison of dissimilar datasets.)

In this case, the data that they used was the April snow water equivalent, or SWE. The SWE is how many inches of water you get when you melt a column of snow. Use of the SWE avoids the problem that different kinds of snow have different thicknesses, as some are fluffy and light and others are wet and heavy. Figures 2 and 3 show their standardized SWE results.

Figure 2. Pederson 2011 individual and average April snow water equivalent (SWE) for the northern part of the Rocky Mountains. Data Source (Excel, worksheet “HUC6 Observed SWE”)

Figure 3. Pederson 2011 individual and average April snow water equivalent (SWE) for the southern part of the Rocky Mountains. Data Source (Excel, worksheet “HUC6 Observed SWE”)

Well … I looked at that and I thought “western North American snowpack has declined in recent decades”? Really? I thought “unprecedented reductions”?!?

I thought, well, maybe we’re not talking about the same thing. Maybe the actual snowpack records show something different, something unprecedented, some big decline in recent decades. So I went to the NRCS SNOTEL records and got the data for Colorado. I averaged it by year and month, and calculated the average April Colorado SWE data to compare with the Pederson 2011 Southern Cordillera data (where Colorado is located.) Figure 4 shows how well they match the Pederson data.

Figure 4. Comparison of the SWE records for Colorado (SNOTEL figures) and the Southern Cordillera (Pedersen 2011 figures).

So we are definitely talking about the same thing …

OK, I thought, that’s it. I’m blowing the whistle. According to both their figures and the SNOTEL figures, there’s no “late twentieth century decline” in snowfall in either the Northern or the Southern Cordillera. That’s hype, and their own data says so. This is particularly true when the more recent data is included (blue line).  For unspecified reasons their data ends in 2006. Since then, the snowfalls have generally increased.

Once again, the AGW proponents haven’t even begun to show that anything out of the usual is occurring. Instead they’ve jumped directly to explaining the cause of something that they haven’t yet shown to exist.

In other words, another day, another alarmist exaggeration. Don’t you love how well peer review is working at Science Magazine for climate articles? Oh, well, I suppose the good news is that it results in a target-rich environment, makes my job easy … but the bad news is that we all lose when this kind of alarmism is published as though it were science.


PS – There’s other issues in this. They say that they can reconstruct historical snowpack from tree rings … hmmmm, where have I heard something like that before? And if they can do such reconstructions, their results don’t show an unprecedented decline in the late 20th century. Instead, they show a decline starting about 1880 or so, and only in the more northern regions.

But that’s all raw meat for someone else to chew on … I’ve seen enough of this study.


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Never ceases to amaze me how rot like this gets published. And these rags like Science and Nature get away with being called ” high impact ” journals.

John Marshall

The Innuit have, I think, 350 words for snow. This prompts me to think that SWE for one type of snow will be different from another. So, is SWE an adequate scientific measure regardless of how or when it is used. Also without some idea as to which type of snow is in a particular place it will be impossible to ascribe an accurate SWE.
This spring has seen near record flooding in the Mississippi basin, surely an indicator of snow pack increase. I also know that this May has seen the Rockey Mountain NP failing to open due to snow. Well I can tell you that three years ago I tried to drive that NP in May and it was closed due to snow. The locals all said that a May opening was more wishful thinking rather than fact. Late May/ June was opening time.
Observation would seem to show that reduced snow is not true.


How odd of them to satisfy every reader. Those predisposed to accept AGW need read only the abstract, find it agreeable, and generate fresh journalistic references to a recent study confirming warming trends. The amateur skeptic, by definition, looks a bit beyond and, finding no real support, is happily incensed at the probable fraud. Those prepared to dig in – ones with the chops to break out and mine the data sets – enjoy the satisfaction of demolishing ‘what is claimed’. Pleasure all around. 😉

David L

I think they had a story on NPR yesterday (June 10 2011) about this. They said something like it would seem odd that in a year with record snowfall and rivers are flooding due to the melt that this paper would show the opposite trend. But they emphasized that its not what happens in a given year but over decades. In other words: don’t believe your lying eyes!


Good job, but of course we knew this was just one of the many alarmist fiction stories.


“further losses are projected through the 21st century”
Won’t these clapped out chiselers ever learn?


This is the equivalent to releasing a story that snowfall will become a distant memory in the middle of a snowstorm. It will mostly damage the credibility of the organization who wrote the article. Does Willis really want folks like these with such incredibly bad timing to stop?

I just drove from Kansas to Seattle and back. Every stream, creek and river I crossed is out of its banks. Some of the communities along the way are sand bagging in anticipation of snowmelt further increasing flood levels. As a displaced Louisiana Boy, I sent warnings to my friends back home: The Father of Waters is gona be high for a while yet.
This is an unscientific observation I have made. And. It is no longer the “Late 20th century”.

Robert of Ottawa

They have hidden the decline well … du-duh…

The SWE really is quite impressive this year and I reckon there will still be significant accumulations persisting at the end of the summer:
Yes it is just one year, and this is just weather, but it will be very interesting to see the figures for 2011 compare with the data above at the end of the season. If you take Figure 4, the April data for 2011 the Lake Powell catchment is not all that impressive – 66% of normal, but as of 5th June was up to 278% of normal.

warmist papers and blogs are wrong, misleading or dishonest. that’s the “null hypothesis” post-Trenberth.


Is there no tipping point where the weight of this, (how shall i describe it?)
Ah yes, excellent first class scientific whats-a-name stuff …..
Is there no tipping point when all and sundry, even the MSN and the politicians call “enough’s enuff”?
Surely we have had as much garbage as it is necessary or decent to be published in the 21st century?


I wonder what the public makes of drivel like that? You have these outlandish predictions in print and you look outside to see massive amounts of snow slathered over the peaks.

Les Johnson

Well, there has been some warming in West North Central region, in the spring. NOAA shows 1.7 deg F per century. But the long term spring precipitation is up, barely, at 0.2 inches per century. (going from 1895 to 2011 for both temp and precip)
Annual temps and precip are similar. Winter temps and precip are up slightly for the former, and down slightly for the latter (at 0.02 inches per decade)
As for why they only used data to 2006? If I was cynical, I would say that its because the precip in 4 of the last 5 years was above average (ending in 2011), while ending in 2006 gives 10 out 11 previous years below average.

Roger Carr

Breaking news:
TORRENTIAL rains combined with melting snow have caused devastating floods across central Norway, washing away several houses and roads and causing landslides.


It took them 4 years to write the paper?! Of course they can say there’s a decline. They just cherry pick the right start year. Some time in the seventies looks about right. Then ignore the last 4……

Les Johnson

This might be a better resource for regional temps and precip.


two words describe this paper…..
alarmist poppycock !
it’s really sad that these folk are actually getting paid for this ‘research’ which clearly, any idiot can do it in a relatively short timescale!
(No, I am not suggesting Willis is an idiot – but it looks like he debunked it in a couple of hours of work! – well done Willis.)


Looking at Figure 4: If by “late 20th Century”, they mean 1980 – 2000, there is some merit in their claim, if you take “late 20th Century” to mean 1960 -2000, there is no merit in their claim. It is also apparent that the 21st Century to date shows an “almost unprecedented increase”.
Lies, damn lies and statistics!

Theo Goodwin

burnside says:
June 11, 2011 at 3:52 am
Sad to say, but you might have found the actual formula. The article is (nothing but) cleverly concealed pleasure for everyone and, for that reason, everyone wants to read it. Science magazines (glossies) are just struggling for more readers in a turbulent environment. Maybe Lindzen could benefit from your insights. “It was the worst of environments; it was the best of environments.”


rbateman says:
June 11, 2011 at 5:09 am
I wonder what the public makes of drivel like that? You have these outlandish predictions in print and you look outside to see massive amounts of snow slathered over the peaks.

This is the disconnect. The people near those areas know deep down that it’s alarmism or at worse straight out deception and lies. This year has seen massive dumpings of snow.


Here’s my answer to the wild-eyed environmentalists……As we know, the use of ground source heat pumps and all kinds of other methods for pulling heat out of the earth are increasing in use. This no doubt is due to all those wonderful programs that promote their use by paying a significant portion of the costs (since otherwise they wouldn’t be justified). If thermal energy trapped below the crust of the Earth is released into our atmosphere at an ever increasing rate, won’t that hit a tipping point that will cause global temperatures to rise wildly? Why not? By comparison to coal and gas, if CO2 is released during combustion, plant life will absorb it and grow bigger, more and healthier plants that benefit the planet….and ultimately is fully sustainable since it creates a new source of fuel. What does a general increase in thermal releases of heat do to our atmosphere other than raise the temperatures? And how sustainable is it to deplete the core of its earth of all that thermal energy? Who has a handle on the heat balance equations for this one? Who has done the global environmental assessment? Is this really an environmentally sound ‘solution’ if practised on a massive scale? And once temperatures have risen from all this heat transferred to the surface of the Earth, how does one propose to cool it back down again? [Anthony…. how does one put a ‘sarcasm alert’ on their posts?]

Richard Wakefield

Can someone explain how tree rings can be a proxy for snow depth when trees arn’t growing in winter?


I thought global warming meant an increase in snow or is that a decrease? These alarmists have their knickers (panties for US readers) in a twist. R. Gates, I need you here.

and here in OZ where it is cold and wet and wintery. then again I must admit the extra warmth has caused the cooling. ( yuk, puke)


It is not that papers like this, or papers claiming proof alien abductions, or papers showing big foot spoor and tracks get written. It is that papers like those mentioned are generally not considered science and don’t get the legitimacy of peer review.
Typically real evidence connected to the real world are used to write papers accepted in science journals. As we see more and more, this is not always the case.


Stories like this belong in the “Literature Page” of Sunday’s newspaper, along with Garfield, Wizard of Id, and Peanuts (Classic). They actually invoke more laughter from me than any of these regular comics

R. Shearer

Is it my imagination that I skied at A-Basin 2 weeks ago, still with a huge snow base, and if I wanted to I could do so today? It must be the exception that proves the rule.


Also No Snow in Norway.
In eastern Norway flooding because of rain, in the mountains the reservoirs are spilling over because of a combination of melting snow and rain, while in northern Norway it’s only snow melt causing problems
Heavy rain, melting snow cause devastating floods across Norway, washing away houses, roads

Snow data

Frank K.

Well, since he authors’ spoke of “unprecedented”…
Colorado: June 1 snowpack at record levels nearly statewide
Posted on June 3, 2011 by Bob Berwyn
Snowpack across much of Colorado was at record levels as of June 1.
Runoff in some northwestern river basins expected to be two to three times of average
By Summit Voice
Colorado’s latest snowpack data, compiled by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, shows the profound impact that a cool and wet May can have on water supplies, in terms of both timing and quantity.

Three cheers for VALUABLE GLOBAL WARMING RESEARCH published by $cience Magazine!


Here in Britain it snowed yesterday on the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales.

John M

Willis, Willis, Willis…will you never learn? You don’t find “truth” by looking at the data. Even Climate Scientists are way over their heads on this.
“Truth” lies with the Weather Channel.

From Washington to Colorado, snowpack levels are anywhere from 200 to 700 percent above normal. Scientists blame the La Nina impact, which has brought more moisture to the northwest, and perhaps, climate change.
“Yes, the atmosphere is warming and warmer air can hold more water vapor. When it snows, and it was cold enough to snow all winter, well that means more snow. And that’s what we got,” Jennifer Carfagno with The Weather Channel said.

Fred from Canuckistan

When you have predetermined conclusions to prove, “nothing out of the normal” starts to look “unprecedented”
Sort of like when you are out at the bar and after a half dozen beer, that “nothing out of the ordinary” girl across the room starts to look like the hotty you really want to score with and brag about.

James Evans

“snowpack reductions are almost unprecedented”
“Almost unprecedented”, isn’t that a bit like being almost a virgin? I mean, either it’s unprecedented or it isn’t. “Almost unprecedented” is surely synonymous with “not unprecedented”. Or “precedented”, I suppose.


Is “almost unprecedented” anything like “kind of pregnant”? If something is “unprecedented”, it has never happened before. If it’s “almost unprecedented”, that means that there is at least ONE occurrence of whatever particular circumstance being discussed happening in the past. As Willis’ years-long study shows (Side bar: How many millions did he receive from “Eeeevil Oil & Big Carbon Inc.” grants to produce his results?), nothing in the past record, even being as cherry-picked as it is, indicates that the “late-20th century decrease” was nowhere near “almost unprecedented”, much less “unprecedented”.
Excellent work, Willis. You, Anthony, Steve and the many others doing the REAL science are like the proverbial canaries in the scientific sewer, crying out “Bullsh*t!” to let alert the world each time another of load of CAWG fecal matter has been flushed down from Big Green (Money), Inc. for their friends, the complicit media rats, to gobble up and disseminate to their blind followers. (I know that’s an “almost unprecedented” analogy and apologize in advance for it.)

Charlie Foxtrot

I’m expecting (hoping?) that some warmistas will leave a note here explaining how, despite what the data say, the snow pack is really much less now than in the past.
I would also like an explanation as to how one can estimate snow depth from tree rings. Last winter, my trees did not grow when there was snow on the ground. I’m sure there is a robust correlation between depth of snow and tree growth rates, I just need a little nudge to find it. Nudge nudge.
What is disconcerting is that what looks like garbage can get published, most likely because of the headline. Did no one actually look at the body of the paper? At the least, a note that “Snow pack since 1935 has been stable” should be included.
Good work Willis. Thanks.



Who needs real data when you can use tree rings instead?

Doug in Seattle

The first thing I looked for in the data (and before reading Willis’s write up) was where the data starts and ends. Living here in the PNW I have become familiar with how the alarmists adjust their data end points to spice their story. I am also familiar with the actual snow pack 20 miles east of my front door.
No surprises. They cut off the last five years during which the snow pack, particularly the spring snow pack, has rebounded back to 1950’s levels and thus removing the spurious negative trend they had built their alarm upon.
Looks like they are now inventing snow pack from before records so that they can keep the alarm alive. Tree rings are good for alarm.

Bruce Cobb

rbateman says:
June 11, 2011 at 5:09 am
I wonder what the public makes of drivel like that? You have these outlandish predictions in print and you look outside to see massive amounts of snow slathered over the peaks.
Never underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance.
Less snow=manmade warming.
More snow=either “just weather” or “climate change/disruption”.
Any floods resulting from the aforementioned are cause for alarm, and “proof positive” that climate catasrophe is upon us, and will only be getting worse.
You gotta Believe.
Or else.

Steve Keohane

AGW predictions=SNAFU. I finally surrendered to time and planted my now two months old ‘seedlings’ in the ground. It had fallen to 39°F the night previous, but hit 37°F this AM. I’m in west central Colorado and we are all joking about when will winter end, hopefully before the solstice.

Steve Keohane

Charlie Foxtrot says: June 11, 2011 at 6:54 am
I’m expecting (hoping?) that some warmistas will leave a note here explaining how, despite what the data say, the snow pack is really much less now than in the past.

It would probably go something like this… We know we are in an expanding universe, so 12″ of fluffy stuff today is really less than 12″ last year…. Never mind that the ruler expanded too.

I take issue with this post, this is NOT an exaggeration. It is a blatant LIE!

Quis custoddiet ipos custodes

Sciencexpress has a bit more information available on-line from the author here-
A small snippet from page 3-
“Hence, a decadal sift to cooling in the tropical and Northeast Pacific could mask the trend in springtime warming and declining snowpack temporarily.”
Funding for the this study was provided by-
“Funding Support from:
National Science Foundation (NSF) | Geography and Regional Science – Grant# 0620793
National Science Foundation (NSF) | Ecology – Grant# 0734277
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) | Western Mountain Initiative”

anna v

It is possible this sort of papers get a positive feedback from the hockey stick of number of academics. Well, I am guessing at a hockey stick for climate science. The feedback goes as follows, a junior climate academic has to have graduate students with completed phds to gain tenure. He fights for a grant that allows him/her to get a student on a five year thesis project. Alarmism gets more grants. More thesis come out and are published and more academics are generated. und so weiter.
I see now there are going to be cuts on the number crunching of academics.
Graduates warned of record 70 applicants for every job
This may increase the number of phd thesis on climate science, unless nature takes pity and we get more cold winters.


Steave Keohane, have you thought about planting “snow peas”? 😉

David L

Jimbo says:
June 11, 2011 at 6:00 am
I thought global warming meant an increase in snow or is that a decrease? These alarmists have their knickers (panties for US readers) in a twist. R. Gates, I need you here.”
On the radio, they explained that trees at lower elevations showed increased ring width due to increased water due to heavy snow, but trees at higher elevarions showed decreased ring width with heavy snowpacks because the heavy snow choked the growth. Sounds like a nice theory, but i thought Mann claims ring width correlation with temperature. How does that factor in with snow depth? Sounds like big interactions at play which they are not considering.

Richard Sharpe

Willis, I am surprised. You expect them to use inconvenient data?

G. Karst

I doubt anyone really pays much attention to a group of naked men, dancing around a fire, casting bones, muttering “booga booga”. The more they practice these rites… the more thinking people, will recognize them, for what they are!
If climate science fails… How will, any of these people, find any kind of employment?? I just don’t think there is much demand for naked bone casters. We must start re-tasking money, for climate research, into welfare for penniless climate researchers. GK


Then we have the other side of the spectrum,
Alberta dry and one third of Slave Lake was destroyed.