Study: 'snowpack levels are a thing of the past'

While California gets snowed under with up to 8 feet of fresh snow, this study has just been published. Timing is everything.

Source: NOHRSC

New study: Snowpack levels show dramatic decline in western states


CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study of long-term snow monitoring sites in the western United States found declines in snowpack at more than 90 percent of those sites – and one-third of the declines were deemed significant.

Since 1915, the average snowpack in western states has declined by between 15 and 30 percent, the researchers say, and the amount of water lost from that snowpack reduction is comparable in volume to Lake Mead, the West’s largest manmade reservoir. The loss of water storage can have an impact on municipal, industrial and agricultural usage, as well as fish and other animals.

Results of the study are being published this week in NPJ Climate and Atmospheric Science, a Nature publication.

“It is a bigger decline than we had expected,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “In many lower-elevation sites, what used to fall as snow is now rain. Upper elevations have not been affected nearly as much, but most states don’t have that much area at 7,000-plus feet.

“The solution isn’t in infrastructure. New reservoirs could not be built fast enough to offset the loss of snow storage – and we don’t have a lot of capacity left for that kind of storage. It comes down to managing what we have in the best possible ways.”

The researchers attribute the snowpack decline to warmer temperatures, not a lack of precipitation. But the consequences are still significant, they point out. Earlier spring-like weather means more of the precipitation will not be stored as long in the mountains, which can result in lower river and reservoir levels during late summer and early fall.

The study considered data from 1,766 sites in the western U.S., mostly from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the California Department of Water Resources. The researchers focused on measurements taken on April 1, which historically has been the high point for snowpack in most areas, though they also looked at measurements for Jan. 1, Feb. 1, March 1, and May 1 – which led to the range of decline of 15 to 30 percent.

They also used a physically based computer model of the hydrologic cycle, which takes daily weather observations and computes the snow accumulation, melting, and runoff to estimate the total snowpack in the western U.S.

“We found declining trends in all months, states and climates,” Mote said, “but the impacts are the largest in the spring, in Pacific states, and in locations with mild winter climates.”

The Pacific states – California, Oregon and Washington – receive more precipitation because of the Pacific Ocean influence, and more of the snow falls at temperatures near freezing. Because the Cascade Mountains, which transect the region, are not as steep as the Rocky Mountains, they have more area that is affected by changes in temperature.

“When you raise the snow zone level 300 feet, it covers a much broader swath than it would in the inland states,” Mote said.

Mote was one of 12 lead authors on a chapter of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report looking at the cryosphere, which is comprised of snow, river and lake ice, sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets and frozen ground. Also an author on the fourth IPCC report, he had led a 2005 study on western snowpack levels that had also documented declines that were less dramatic than those in this new study.

This latest study found:

  • California had the highest number of positive snowpack trends since 1955, but lingering drought during the past decade erased most of those gains and snowpack declines still dominated;
  • Most of the other western states had only one or two sites that reported increases in snowpack;
  • Regions with the most significant decrease in snowpack were eastern Oregon and northern Nevada, though snowpack decreases in excess of 70 percent also occurred in California, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Arizona.

“The amount of water in the snowpack of the western United States is roughly equivalent to all of the stored water in the largest reservoirs of those states,” Mote said. “We’ve pretty much spent a century building up those water supplies at the same time the natural supply of snowpack is dwindling.

“On smaller reservoirs, the water supply can be replenished after one bad year. But a reservoir like Lake Mead takes four years of normal flows to fill; it still hasn’t recovered from the drought of the early 2000s.”

Mote said snowpack levels in most of the western U.S. for 2017-18 thus far are lower than average – a function of continued warming temperatures and the presence of a La Niña event, which typically results in warmer and drier conditions in most southwestern states.


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March 4, 2018 6:33 am

Hmmm….. and we’re getting what I could rightfully term ‘normal’ winter and spring weather here in the Midwest. I don’t know if there is a connection there or not, but I believe these things go in both short and long-term cycles, which may possibly be changing.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Sara
March 4, 2018 10:45 am

By “normal” I’m guessing you mean “pre-warm period”. Say, more like the 60’s or 70’s? If so, same here in Western Canada. I gather that the entire Northern Hemisphere is pretty much back to “normal”.

Reply to  Sara
March 4, 2018 10:59 am

By normal, I meant closer to the average temperatures and snowfall for the area. Sorry i didn’t specify that. I have been keeping track of those things locally going on six years now, which makes for an interesting review.
In the winter of 2013-2014, there was a lot of snow and there were April snowfalls, but temps didn’t fall extremely low. The late snows brought lots of birds to my feeding station, including the more common field birds like grackles, redwinged blackbirds and brownheaded cowbirds for the second winter in a row. They came back on time, but there was no food, so they relied on me and people like me who have feeding stations. I shot a lot of pictures of them. It happened again the next winter, and again, I got photos. Birds such as the white-throated sparrow and white-crowned sparrow, species that do not normally come to this area, also showed up. I have a nice shot of the white-crowned sparrow.
There are small but significant changes like that, such as the appearance and growing census count of snowy owls and snowy gulls, which are Arctic birds. It isn’t the cold chasing them down here. It’s either a population explosion or not enough game for them to catch.
All of these things may be primary indicators of a longer-term change than just temperature readings and snowfall levels. You might want to keep written records of things you don’t normally see in your area, because they can be early indicators that a long-term change is slowly getting underway.
When you pay attention to these small things, if they reoccur, it may be part of a pattern that charts and graphs don’t account for.
Sorry I wasn’t clearer earlier.

Reply to  Sara
March 5, 2018 3:51 pm

You seem to be basing everything on a model. Has it been validated?
You seem to blame the decreased snow pack to warmer temperatures, and yet you say that Lake Mead’s level is down due to the drought. Which is it? Since warmer temps giving more melt water would (at least) keep Lake Mead’s level constant, I expect that it’s a drought. Please don’t be in such a rush to blame everything on Global Warming.

Reply to  Sara
March 4, 2018 5:34 pm

I tried to check the water status of lake Mead but all records seemed to cease at 2015.
Does anyone know the current trend then?

Reply to  rogerthesurf
March 4, 2018 6:07 pm Has what looks to be historical to Jan 2018 water levels at lake mead.

Reply to  rogerthesurf
March 6, 2018 4:37 pm

@ kb…I can read that entire graph as being correlated with the solar cycle. Consider this. The very beginning of the graph shows the height of the warm trend from 1915/16 to 1946/47. A cool trend starts in 1947, Notice the notch and low point in early 1947. The graph then slopes down into the solar minimum around 1955/56, and then the lake rises as the Sun soars to the solar maximum in the late 1950s. That carries over until the solar minimum in the mid 1960s, when lake levels plunge once again.
Now here is the point of change in the climate system.Notice that the lake levels rise, but that the solar minimum in the mid 1970s had no effect, the lake level did not drop. Why??? Water levels in the lake then remain high all the way into the early 2000s, before they drop into the climate shift point at 2006/07, the cool trend is now in place. Lake levels drop thereafter as the cool trend is in place, and will continue to around 2036/37, imo.

Dodgy Geezer
March 4, 2018 6:39 am

…“The solution isn’t in infrastructure. New reservoirs could not be built fast enough to offset the loss of snow storage…
I simply don’t believe that. Unless he’s saying that protests can be arranged to stop ANY reservoirs being built…

Ian H
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 4, 2018 7:37 am

You could sure build a dam a lot quicker than you could change the climate by driving an electric car.

Phil R
Reply to  Ian H
March 4, 2018 4:36 pm

Ian H,
Don’t know what to say, just +thousands. Common sense could not be expressed more succinctly.

Reply to  Ian H
March 4, 2018 5:25 pm

“Phil R March 4, 2018 at 4:36 pm
Ian H,
Don’t know what to say, just +thousands. Common sense could not be expressed more succinctly”

I agree +thousands
Ian H. displays a level of common sense not contained in things from Oregon State; especially not in a whinging cry about snow decline that ignores long term cycles in a very arid region.

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 4, 2018 8:04 am

Almost 243 years ago today (on March 5, 1775) General George Washington took cannons from Fort Ticonderoga and built a redoubt on The Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston Harbor. The men under his command did this in ONE night. This motivated the British Navy to abandon Boston. Upon waking in the morning, the leader of the British Forces, Gen. Howe is reported to have said: “My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months.” And they were the most powerful force on Earth at the time.
As of March 4, 2018, America’s (or at least California’s) engineers can’t figure out how to capture rain water. At least, this is what’s being reported here. Despite all the benefits of today’s most powerful force on Earth, with associated technology, education and stable political structure. I should also add that you’re considered an expert in a climate related field of study if you believe the Sun has nothing (or almost nothing) to do with climate; that snow/ice melt below 0 degrees C and that when the world heats up, it make for historic cold and snow fall. How times have changed! And how remarkable it is that becoming powerful can rob a person of his/her power (or brains, guts, heart). All together sad. We’re ripe for the picking folks.

Reply to  McLovin'
March 4, 2018 9:23 am

Perhaps the difference is in the leadership , now versus then.

Reply to  McLovin'
March 4, 2018 10:23 am

McLovin, that’s interesting. Even in 1775 the British military was already slowed by a bureaucratic culture. Same now in the US — highway projects that should’ve been completed in months drag on for years.

Reply to  McLovin'
March 4, 2018 1:06 pm

we have the national environmental policy act (and Calif has its own version of this), we have the endangered species act, we have historical preservation act, clean water act, and dozens more each of which require reports, studies, public hearings and so on before anything is constructed
and California (and other states)have numerous groups with funding and dedicated staff to use whatever laws they can find to stop projects, especially dams which environmentalists hate with a white hot passion

Reply to  McLovin'
March 4, 2018 1:42 pm

I have problems with rain versus snow up in the mountains. Seems to me that we weere taught
that an inch of rain was about like ten inches of snow in most cases. So seems to me that the dams could hold back more water if it rained than if it snowed.
What am I missing here other than the need for more grant $$$ to further study and report.?? also noted that one of the lead autors was an IPCC weenie, hmmmmm.

Reply to  McLovin'
March 4, 2018 1:53 pm

@ beng135 : …… Projects are administered by people on salary, do dragging out a project, for which you are paid monthly, makes perfect sense. Especially if you’re paid handsomely and you can drag it on for years.

Michael Kelly
Reply to  McLovin'
March 4, 2018 1:59 pm

The United States is today’s “most powerful [human] force on earth.” Last Friday, it’s Federal Government (for whom I work) was completely shut down by (wait for it) high winds. Winds of the speed I used to experience for weeks on end in southern California. The latter are known as the Santa Ana winds, and out of the 28 years I lived there, they showed up at least 15 times. Almost ripped the door off of my car one year, yielding the stout steel hinges. The only time they ever caused anyone to shut down was when they accompanied brush fire season, and then it was really bad. But in the normal course of events, we just ignored them.
High winds or a few millimeters of snow, take your pick. Either will bring the most powerful nation on earth to its knees.

Steve Zell
Reply to  McLovin'
March 5, 2018 5:22 pm

California’s engineers can probably figure out how to capture rain water and snow melt, if they didn’t have politicians from San Francisco telling them that it’s more important to let the water out to the Pacific to keep Delta Smelts happy than to divert it to the central valley to grow crops in a naturally fertile but dry valley.
The Roman Empire figured out how to manage water over 2,000 years ago, building long aqueducts to transport snowmelt from the Alps and Appenines to coastal cities along the Mediterranean, where fresh rainwater was relatively scarce in summer. Some of these aqueducts are still standing 2,000 years later.
The pioneers who arrived in the valley south of the Great Salt Lake in the mid-19th century were faced with the same problem–a valley that received very little rainfall in summer and autumn, with a mountain range (the Wasatch) to the east that had a deep snowpack in winter and spring. There were plenty of mountain streams flowing westward gorging with water in spring, but nearly dry the rest of the year. So the pioneers built canals crossing the streams going north and south along the valley, slowing down the water flow so that it could irrigate crops all summer, as well as canals diverting water from freshwater Utah Lake across the valley. These canals are still in operation today.
When you have a climate like ancient Rome, do as the Romans did.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but the will is lacking in California.

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 4, 2018 8:56 am

Even if it were true that they couldn’t build reservoirs fast enough, that is not evidence that new reservoirs aren’t part of the solution.

Reply to  MarkW
March 4, 2018 9:34 am

EXcellent point – these morons reject anything that doesn’t provide a 100% solution,even if one could define it.

Reply to  MarkW
March 4, 2018 10:32 am

What good does it do to build new reservoirs when California drains reservoirs in the middle of a drought to save a dozen fish?

John Pickens
Reply to  MarkW
March 4, 2018 10:43 am

I’m reminded of the previous POTUS quotation:”We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices”
These people are abject fools. Why does anyone listen to their defeatist rhetoric?

Bob boder
Reply to  MarkW
March 5, 2018 10:17 am

Remember when we couldn’t drill our way out of the oil crisis?

paul courtney
Reply to  MarkW
March 5, 2018 12:31 pm

MarkW: I saw his “the solution isn’t in infrastructure” quote, and read it this way- “The solution IS in infrastructure, but I saw ecoactivists threaten to claw a colleague to death when he said that, and he had to change identity and relocate his family, so I’ll say the solution is NOT in infrastructure. Plus, I realized if we had plenty of water, they won’t need my expertise to “best” manage it.” That’s when he really woke.

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 4, 2018 9:41 am

…and how many years’ worth of water did we see simply flow out to the Pacific last season? We can start with what was released from/through existing reservoirs; then add the acre-feet not captured in unobstructed rivers like the Eel and the Cosumnes, and suddenly it’s a whole lot of ‘the-people-who-say-additional-storage-is-not-a-solution-are-idiots’, imho. (So I am in full agreement w you, Geezer!)

Tom Gelsthorpe
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 4, 2018 10:58 am

“The patient is losing weight but eating more won’t help.” ????????

Reply to  Tom Gelsthorpe
March 4, 2018 1:02 pm

Especially when our objective is to kill the patient. Er, I mean ‘euthanize.’

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 4, 2018 11:38 am

Now they are not only assuming that the trend will continue, which is just stupid sloppy science, but they believe they are qualified to tell the rest of society what they have to do about their stupid, sloppy science.
It is almost like they want to use climate as an excuse to control everyone else! Oh…wait a minute…

Killer Marmot
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 4, 2018 1:23 pm

Building more reservoirs would alleviate at least part of the problem.
And that’s far better than doing nothing.

Reply to  Killer Marmot
March 4, 2018 3:35 pm

Takes money. Might have to give up that high-speed rail.

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 4, 2018 2:30 pm

I read the same gratuitous, predictable quote and spit out my morning coffee. Perhaps this genius doesn’t know that it took only 5-years to build The Hoover Dam. Under budget and ahead of schedule. He must be thinking of how many terms it took Gov. Brown to destroy Oroville Dam?

Tom Halla
March 4, 2018 6:42 am

And given the current government in California, stored water reserves will be released to “save” the Delta smelt.

Reply to  Tom Halla
March 4, 2018 10:06 am

By Federal law (Miller-Bradley Act of 1992) 40 – 50% of all water collected in California is to go to EPA projects. Not sure why a law could be passed that would only effect the inner workings of a single state, but there it is. I would be happy to know why that is OK – either the allocation, or the application only to a single state.

March 4, 2018 7:01 am

Since 1915 which is a little over 100 yrs. I can only assume the readings haven’t been “homogenized” where the snowpack in the earlier years was raised to effect the long term trend.
If the trend is in fact true and continues, mostly CA is going to have issues a la Cape Town SA. They got lots of people there and between agriculture, Beverly Hills’ lawns and thirsty people, they need a lot of water.
But if you look further back in the record are we actually at a high point in historical snow pack and going back to “normal” or are we at “normal”, or is there really a “normal”. There have been incredible droughts in the past out there and incredible floods where the entire central valley was under water.
The oscillations of the Pacific water temperatures like La Niña’s and El Niño’s and La Nada’s completely flip patterns and can take years and decades to complete a cycle. I’m not exactly sure what the value of this report is. If you are in planning, you assume the worst and hope for the best anyway.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  rbabcock
March 4, 2018 10:59 am

What was the population of California 100 years ago? What will the population be in 50 years from now? How much water can be reasonably allocated for agriculture? How much groundwater can be pumped? What is the all in cost of water? Does desalination have a greater role in the future? Questions they don’t seem interested in are the most important.

Duncan Smith
March 4, 2018 7:10 am

We found declining trends in all months, states and climates,….

Right there I would have to question my results. Not one increasing trend in one month, state or climate anywhere whatsoever? Sounds like a bias model output to me.

Reply to  Duncan Smith
March 4, 2018 7:24 am

Read more carefully what that sentence really says: “we found at least one declining trend in each month somewhere in some state, at least one declining trend for some site in some month in each state and at least one declining trend for some month in some state for each climate.”
It would have been more surprising if they hadn’t.

Reply to  Duncan Smith
March 4, 2018 11:04 am

did yo read, “They also used a physically based computer model of the hydrologic cycle, which takes daily weather observations and computes the snow accumulation, melting, and runoff to estimate the total snowpack in the western U.S.”
That invalidates the whole thing as far as I’m concerned.

Reply to  Shelly Marshall
March 4, 2018 3:04 pm

Garbage-in … Lucrative $$$$ Grant money-out

Curious George
March 4, 2018 7:19 am

“Since 1915 the snowpack .. has declined”. Why since 1915? For a more dramatic effect, start at 2017, a record snowpack year.

Reply to  Curious George
March 4, 2018 8:35 am

There probably weren’t any snowpack records before then. In Colorado the records begin only from the late 1930’s: To measure the snowpack someone has to physically hike up to the designated measurement sites and jam a measuring stick/pole into the snow down to the ground. Given that difficulty and how random snow falls in different areas on a single mountain this data has a large uncertainty and a large variance. Extrapolating any trend is fraught with error and should be taken with an entire shaker’s worth of salt.
What matters is for each year what is the local watershed’s snowpack level at the end of the season. About this time of year the media pumps the story about the snowpack being X% below average and then inevitably a few good storms come through and by May the snowpack is at or above average, yet the media never says “sorry about the unnecessary alarm – we’ll try to do better next year.”

Reply to  Dinsdale
March 4, 2018 9:30 am

Been done by helicopters for decades, no hiking required.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Dinsdale
March 4, 2018 9:42 am

What kind of helicopter were they using before 1930? The point he was making was that the historical data were sparse and unreliable!

Reply to  Dinsdale
March 4, 2018 10:05 am

Snowpack records exist for the Sierra Nevada since 1879. Easy to find. Through 2017 the trend is flat.

Reply to  Dinsdale
March 4, 2018 10:48 am

The media has to “pump the story” before it loses its value. It’s hard to sell a drought right after a deluge.

Reply to  Curious George
March 4, 2018 9:40 am

Don’t they build safety margins into their calculations?

J Mac
Reply to  Old44
March 4, 2018 10:57 am

Yes. Yes they do! Consider:
“It is a bigger decline than we had expected,” said Philip Mote
This was a calculated safety margin statement to guarantee continued funding.

R. Shearer
Reply to  Old44
March 4, 2018 1:35 pm

Why, that would be like having shoulders and guardrails on a twisty mountain road. Why would they do that?

old engineer
Reply to  Old44
March 4, 2018 5:08 pm

R, Shearer-
Maybe Colorado has change in the past 35 years, but I remember back then driving twisty mountain secondary road with no shoulder or guardrail. I had the same question: Why would they do that? I figured it was to kill off visiting Texans.

Reply to  Curious George
March 4, 2018 9:44 am

Or, and here is a thought, with the designers believing the spillway was built on solid bedrock why did they ignore the geologists and engineers who said there was significant erodible soil.

Reply to  Old44
March 4, 2018 12:20 pm

And how much gold was in that material. The Feather River is one of the great gold rivers.

March 4, 2018 7:27 am

Perhaps we can establich a new organization ( to audit the accuracy of the measurments in 1915 for the entire Western half of the country? How good is that baseline used in this study? How much did these people get paid?

March 4, 2018 7:27 am

Fact: (As of 2014) Since 1970, California’s population increased 87% while its water reservoir capacity increased 26%. Snowpack changes are NOT a root water problem. California politics is. Ditto Oregon, but I don’t have the numbers readily at hand. The California data are one example in essay False Alarms in ebook Blowing Smoke.

Reply to  ristvan
March 4, 2018 11:05 am


Reply to  ristvan
March 4, 2018 2:04 pm

[Snip. These types of jokes are not welcome here. -mod]

Bob boder
Reply to  jorgekafkazar
March 5, 2018 10:22 am

“Re People’s Republic of …”
MODERATORS this post should be removed.
[Agreed. Thanks for the h/t. -mod]

Bob boder
Reply to  jorgekafkazar
March 5, 2018 11:52 am


March 4, 2018 7:34 am

I don’t get it – reservoirs can hold snow run off – but if the precipitation comes in the form of rain it is uncollectible?

Reply to  Marque2
March 4, 2018 8:26 am

Snowpack here in the West is another form of water storage. The mountains collect snow through the winter and then as it melts it fills the streams and rivers. The total mountain snowfield acreage and depth is vastly greater than any volume of reservoirs that could be practically built.
For instance, here along the Front Range of Colorado we get our water primarily from snow melt. We don’t get a lot of rain (its a semi-arid region) and the rivers aren’t that big next to the mountains so we have to depend on the snowpack.

Reply to  Marque2
March 4, 2018 10:12 am

The only snowpack that matters is what is above 8000 feet, and takes all summer to melt. The winter/spring runoff can leave reservoirs full, but without the summer snowpack they will be largely depleted again by fall.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  brians356
March 4, 2018 10:47 am

. . . is a relative term. Most are managed also for flood control so will have an unfilled storage capacity to hold what might otherwise be too rapid of a melt season.

March 4, 2018 7:36 am
Joe Crawford
March 4, 2018 8:24 am

“Since 1915, the average snowpack in western states has declined by between 15 and 30 percent” – Their data for the study starts in 1915 putting a little over half the data before 1955 which is taken by some as before the anthropogenic part of the current warming climate. Do they try to tie their results to CAGW in the study or are some scientists finally getting tired of blaming everything, including the color of the kitchen sink, on AGW

Kristi Silber
Reply to  Joe Crawford
March 5, 2018 10:02 pm

Would that make it more believable to you?

Paul S
March 4, 2018 8:52 am

Since 1915, the temperature has risen a couple of degrees. This results in a 15-30% decrease in snow? How is this possible? What am I missing here?

David A
Reply to  Paul S
March 5, 2018 3:09 am

Since there is zero decrease in global snow fall, or even NH snowfall, then whatever the cause, it is not CO2.
( Bad statistics may well be the cause. I would like to Mr Steele’s take on this)

Kristi Silber
Reply to  David A
March 5, 2018 10:13 pm

David A,
Even if this is true that there is zero decrease in global snow fall, it does not follow that it is unrelated to CO2. You don’t take changes in precipitation (and where it falls) into account. A short, relatively warm winter can still bring lots of snow.

Kristi Silber
Reply to  Paul S
March 5, 2018 10:05 pm

Paul S, Are you really interested, or was that a rhetorical question?

March 4, 2018 8:59 am

Nobody doubts that temperatures have increased since 1915 (and since the 1800’s). It would be expected that there would be less snowpack in warmer temperatures. It is worth studying whether this expectation is true and what the actual levels of snowpack are, since snowpack trends are dependent on a huge number of factors.
What we need is an economic model of what the most efficient way of providing water is.
My bet is that is is more efficient and effective to build dams than to spend many trillions of dollars to further impoverish poor people on the chance that it may affect temperature a few hundredths of a degree.

John F. Hultquist
March 4, 2018 9:03 am

Snow Telemetry (SNO-tel) information was discussed on WUWT a few years ago. There are some issues, nonetheless:
Western US SNOTEL Snow/Precipitation Update Report
As of today, Sunday Mar 4, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming are doing quite well. Other states less so.
If there was a global climate change one might expect a broad areal coverage decrease.
Still, it is just one season.
Unrelated: In areas where large wildfires have been, and where the soot has been carried by winds – the black material settles on snow and increases melt.
It takes 3 to 4 seasons for this soot to disappear from the forest and settle into the ground – stopping its impact.
Philip Mote, director of . . .
We’ve seen this name before, also.

March 4, 2018 9:14 am

I needed a laugh today. That’s some pretty fancy political science there now.

March 4, 2018 9:16 am

They have been AlGoreised.

Jeff Alberts
March 4, 2018 9:16 am

Like I said in a different thread. Do these people expect NOTHING to EVER change?

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
March 4, 2018 9:43 am

Yes, as far as one can tell, everything should have remained static since around 1900 (or has if you belief the hockey stick graphs). Any changes there after were caused by evil fossil fuels being burned. Stop burning the fuels and we’ll go back to the “proper” state of nature. Oh, and burn all those silly Darwin books quickly.

James Schrumpf
March 4, 2018 9:23 am

It seems to me that precipitation is a zero-sum game. Whether it falls as rain or becomes snowpack, the same amount of precipitation is being received. Since it’s a given that the snowpack holds much more water than can be captured in reservoirs, more of the precipitation is hitting the local hydrologic cycle earlier than normal by falling as rain.
Obviously, it won’t replenish the reservoirs any faster, because no more precipitation is being received. What will happen is that the streams and rivers will flow higher earlier in the year, and lower later in the year, and the reservoirs will fill at the same rate as before. But then the authors state:
“Earlier spring-like weather means more of the precipitation will not be stored as long in the mountains, which can result in lower river and reservoir levels during late summer and early fall.”
I would agree with the first clause, but the second does not follow, completely. The river levels will be lower, because they won’t be fed by as much snowpack. (Question: does the snowpack completely melt away every year? [I guess it does, otherwise there’d be glaciers up there.])
However I don’t see how the reservoir levels will be altered. If the same amount of precipitation is falling, then the reservoirs will fill more, earlier, because the rain will immediately reach them; then be drained back to whatever is their late-season norm as the snow melt decreases.

Brian Adams
Reply to  James Schrumpf
March 4, 2018 10:25 am

You’re missing the obvious. If all the precipitation falls as rain, the relatively small reservoirs quickly fill up, and most of the runoff must be spilled past the dams and wasted. Only if much of the precipitation is captured in the vast high snowpack can it gradually replenish the drawn-down reservoirs over the dry, hot summer (when most of the draw-down occurs.)

Reply to  Brian Adams
March 4, 2018 11:00 am

Brian, there are two additional factors to be considered in California’s mountains: sublimation and evaporation. The air is very dry (the Sierras abut the high desert) and the snow does a great deal of sublimating before it melts and even more evaporation before it sinks into the soils.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Brian Adams
March 4, 2018 11:25 am

But there is also an altitude component to this. Presumably winter rain falls at lower elevations and therefore results in a lighter snowpack at lower elevations and thus less chance of rapid spring melt. When that is the condition it should allow retention of more water in the reservoirs.
We live with this on the plains as well. Snowfall varies greatly from year to year, speed of the melt varies greatly from year to year and the quantity and timing of Spring rain varies wildly.On top of those factors there is nowhere for excess water to go when it floods.
We call these phenomena “weather”.

Brian Adams
Reply to  Brian Adams
March 4, 2018 11:26 am

rocketscientist, that doesn’t detract from my response to James S., it only suggests an even larger snowpack is required.

David A
Reply to  Brian Adams
March 5, 2018 3:15 am

Actually it suggests the models used to determine resivour release may need to be adjusted in low snowpack years, allowing retention of a greater percentage of run off.

Reply to  James Schrumpf
March 4, 2018 10:33 am

Do you think reservoir levels may in some tiny way be effect by the amount taken out , Who knows these authors seem not to have consider changes in demand and how that may have effected levels , which is odd given that is the other side of the equation.

Reply to  knr
March 4, 2018 11:06 am

The “Killer Kern” river which flows from the southern Sierras barely makes it to Bakersfield before it disappears. A great deal more pumps drawing upon it than ever before.

March 4, 2018 9:42 am

There was a really bright idea about using spent nuclear fuel (nuclear wastes to the anti-nukes)
stored in dry concrete casks. This spent fuel doesn’t have the level of radiation to power the turbines in a nuclear plant, but there remains PLENTY of energy, emitted from the casks as thermal energy that can reach, I believe, around 350 degrees. The idea was to spread these casks across Death VAlley and flood the valley by siphoning Pacific water. This water would then by distilled by the nuclear fuel’s thermal energy and piped back to the coast as potable water. Costs would be minimal.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  arthur4563
March 4, 2018 9:47 am

You said, “Costs would be minimal.” You forgot the /sarc tag.

F. Leghorn
Reply to  arthur4563
March 4, 2018 10:00 am

“Minimal?” How much would the cleanup costs of all the greenies heads exploding be?

F. Leghorn
Reply to  arthur4563
March 4, 2018 10:00 am

“Minimal?” How much would the cleanup costs of all the greenies heads exploding be?

Count to 10
Reply to  arthur4563
March 4, 2018 2:12 pm

So, the piping of sea water to Death Valley would be prohibitive, but there might be something to desalination by waste material. If the chances of contamination are manageable. And you can somehow sneak it past the green lobby.

March 4, 2018 9:51 am

Squaw Valley received 100 inches of new snowfall over the past week at the 8000 ft level, and 90 new inches at lake Tahoe level 6200 feet. But of course that’s weather, not climate.

Steve Oregon
March 4, 2018 10:12 am

Mote has been manipulating the snow pack data to display the desired message for years.
He’s been unable to show any trend in snow pack without cherry picking exceptions.
His fallacious pretence that there is both an alarming overall decline trend while there is no trend in mountain snowpack provides just enough deceit to keep him employed.
Mote has to fudge the mountain snow pack by saying “Upper elevations have not been affected nearly as much”.
“Not as much”? More like not at all. There have been low years, high years and everything in between without any distinguishable trend pattern at all.
This Mt Hood data makes my point. Scroll to average by decade graph.
The 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s are so random not even Mote can Mote-o-shop in a trend.

Reply to  Steve Oregon
March 5, 2018 6:18 am


Don Easterbrook
March 4, 2018 10:17 am

Of course snow levels are lower since 1915! 1915 was the end of 35 years of global cooling (1880-1915) when glaciers reached their maximum extent since the Little Ice Age maximum about 1700 AD. During this cool period, most of the cold temperature records of the US were set and glaciers advanced. Then from 1915 to about 1950, temperatures rose to their highest of the century and glaciers rapidly retreated. There followed another 30 years of global cooling from 1950 to 1980 and glaciers advanced nearly to their 1915 positions. From 1980 to ~2000, temperatures warmed and glaciers retreated again, but remained downvalley from their 1950 positions. We have just ended a 20-25 years warm period, so of course, comparing the end of this warm period (2000) (or the century following the 1915 cold maximum) to the end of the coldest period of the century is going to show a decline in snow and ice.
What Phil Mote has done is to ignore these fluctuations and start with the acme of a cold period, then claim global warming is causing snow and ice to decline. This is not science, it’s propaganda. He also ignores the fact that the period of maximum warming (1915-1950) in this century occurred well BEFORE CO2 emissions began to soar after WWII (1945), yet blames CO2 as the cause of warming.
The bottom line here is that the data in the paper may well be correct, but the conclusions Mote draws are not credible.

Reply to  Don Easterbrook
March 4, 2018 12:24 pm

Yeah, he used a lot of weasel wording too. Rephrased, he found that 70% of the sites showed insignificant or no change at all. Given natural variability, that only 30% of the sites showed significant change is the real surprise.

Bruce Cobb
March 4, 2018 10:19 am

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Snowpack has diminished some over the past century, due to a shocking warming of aproximately 1C, as temperatures rebound from the LIA! Scientists are stunned! Summertime levels of rivers and streams are somewhat lower! The children won’t know what snowpack is!
Film at 11.

March 4, 2018 10:29 am

Since 1915, now I wonder just how good the coverage of this factor was then and a for a lot of years afterward when it so little interest in it ?
Meanwhile their evidenced to show this change us unnatural compared to the long term is ?
In short it is one of many items of ‘research’ rushed out to explain away all the cold and snow people are getting thanks to ‘AGW’
And the good news in a very green way should there be a shortage of snow they can just recycle them and keep the exact same scientific value they have now.

March 4, 2018 10:49 am

The “funny thing is”, that each square meter (m²) of 18% efficient PV solar cell panel delivers about 1 kWh/day on the average. And 1 kWh is enough to osmotically desalinate ⅓ m³ of water.
1 hectare (properly spaced) of tilted PV panels (not max-packed, but winter-minimum packed) will generate about 1,800 m³ of fresh water per day, year around. 500,000 m³ per year, at 78% insolation efficiency (i.e. taking into account clouds, inclement weather, and so forth).
500,000 m³ ÷ 10,000 m² = 50 m
Which is to say, a LOT of water. In acre-feet, that’s what … 50 ÷ 0.3048 = 164 feet of water over a hectare. 164 × 2.47 acre/hectare = 405 acre-feet per hectare of PV. Better to stick with the metric: 50 hectare meters per hectare per year. 50 hamphaa. Ham-fa!
THE POINT IS, not to endlessly whine about storing winter water. Its just to invest in making a bunch more of it from the abundant salt water of the Pacific. Even if you include the pumping overhead to get the made-water into coastal reservoirs, you still would get 40 hectare-meters per year, per hectare. Moreover, with the non-tight area packing, the same land … with HIGH overhead PV, could also be used as grazing land. Well watered grazing land to boot. Might as well grow “the good stuff” … alfalfa, milo, amaranth, head-corn. They’re all good with 30% to 50% available sunlight in extended well-watered growing seasons.
Just saying.

March 4, 2018 10:50 am

My post, where doth she go?

Reply to  GoatGuy
March 4, 2018 3:39 pm

“Yum, yum” says cyberspace.

Ed Bo
March 4, 2018 10:51 am

Having lived in California for 40 years and formally studied both the technical and political aspects of Western water policy, I get completely exasperated by studies/press releases such as this — and there are many of these.
Yes, if winter precipitation low in the mountains comes as rain rather than snow, it drains into the reservoirs earlier in the year than if it fell as snow and melted in the spring. But this only impacts the water supplies if the reservoirs are already so full that the water must be released for flood control purposes, which is a very small percentage of the time.
The Western reservoirs are sized for multi-year storage to enable the West to get through the inevitable droughts. It took about 5 years of drought for California to get into a critical state with regard to its water supply. With the reservoirs low, it didn’t matter at all if more January precipitation fell as rain.
It should be obvious to any high school student that Mote’s claim about Lake Mead water levels being impacted by a shift in runoff to earlier in the year when it takes 4 years to refill the reservoir is absurd. In fact, he gets it exactly backwards — the smaller reservoirs that don’t have multi-year storage would be the MOST impacted by such an effect. How did this get past the most rudimentary peer review?

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Ed Bo
March 4, 2018 11:38 am

AGW is all about reducing the “rudiment”
in peer review.

Reply to  John Harmsworth
March 4, 2018 12:27 pm

They have been incredibly successful in accomplishing that.

Reply to  John Harmsworth
March 4, 2018 8:22 pm

Bet you $10 this “study” will be referenced in the next IPCC report.

March 4, 2018 10:54 am

“It is a bigger decline than we had expected,” said Philip Mote…
As soon as I read that, I felt like I was being led, and about to taken on a fictional journey. From that statement alone, I learn that he has a preconceived notion of what the snowpack should have been. Then I think to myself, did they cherry pick the data they wanted to arrive at the worst conclusion they could, and then editorialize their scientific paper to show us running low on water? Or are we just using a lot more water than we did 40 years ago, with not much new water storage infrastructure built in the last 40 years?
Then I learned it was to be a chapter in the upcoming IPPC 5th Assessment looking at the cryosphere, and then I realized these authors have ‘skin’ in the game in getting us to believe whatever environmental philosophy they are already wedded to. And when he states unequivocally that new water storage reservoirs could not be built fast enough to alleviate lower snowpack conditions to offset the loss of snow storage, then I knew I was being completely spun by this article. The bias is not even any longer hid or written at a very subtle level. It is now just in your face, tell us what your preconceived editorial notions are. So now, I am having a very hard time actually believing any actual scientific data from people who first have an agenda and then ‘lecture’ us on the results of their apparent discovery. Perhaps the ‘adjustment’ of the temperature and long term climate record that has so polarized people into camps such as alarmists and/or sceptics has so damaged science that perhaps trust will never be able to be reconciled with the ‘activist’ scientist.
I don’t doubt snow pack levels are changing, since that is what weather and climate cycles do: they Change. Apparently on a weekly basis as the headline of this article noted…timing is everything, in regards to a 8 foot dump of snow over a wide spread area that just happened the last few days. Just collect the data honestly, and present it in a way that appears to be neutral of any bias, and let me (and you) the reader think what we will about how that data is to be used.

John F. Hultquist
March 4, 2018 11:01 am

In the summer of 1904, University of Nevada, Reno professor, Dr. James E. Church, repeatedly climbed 10,800 foot high Mount Rose in order to build a shelter in which he could install a remote weather observatory. He began recording snow and weather conditions on Mt. Rose for the National Weather Service in 1905. Church, a “favorite son” of the university and also known as the “Father of Snow Surveying,” was the first to record high-altitude weather in the Sierra Nevada.
Link here: Some history of snow surveying

Alan Tomalty
March 4, 2018 11:16 am

“They also used a physically based computer model of the hydrologic cycle, which takes daily weather observations and computes the snow accumulation, melting, and runoff to estimate the total snowpack in the western U.S.”
As soon as I read the above line I stopped reading any more. Computer Climate models are bunk. They are not practicing any science.

Peta of Newark
March 4, 2018 11:36 am

What do ya want snow fer, see what a few inches of it does in poor ol’ blighty.
Even worse, and so as not to go too far OT, is a seeming shortage of currants/raisins (from California) that go make one of the few things I’d break the Atkins Diet for – Hot Cross Buns.
It gets even worse than worser than we worsly thort. Currants make up the majority ingredient of Eccles Cakes = another fave of mine and, apart from the M6 motorway, the only good thing to come out of Lancashire

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 4, 2018 11:43 am

Global warming is not responsible for your currant problem. You will need to find another raisin.

Reply to  John Harmsworth
March 9, 2018 8:06 am

Just caught that!! 😛
You win a free week on the Internet…

JRF in Pensacola
Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 4, 2018 12:08 pm

See an article in today’s local paper (by Ian James from the USA Network) about projected declining vegetable yields in California because of climate change. Also an article about California ranking last about quality of life by Sean Rossman of USA Today. Interesting timing by the three articles: water, food and quality of life.

March 4, 2018 11:44 am

A other reason l can see why they are keen to mainly use the April 1st date, its because its been during the springtime where most of the declines in snow extent has been happening across the NH for at least the last 50 years. So this will produce the most scary headlines. Without doubt there has been a warming trend during this important time of the year across the NH. Which the spring snow cover extent shows up clearly. For spotting any changes in climate trends then one of the best places to look is at the NH spring snow extent. Because for their to be any clear signs of climate cooling then the spring snow extent will need to be increasing. So this is one of the reasons why l will be watching this years spring snow extent closely. Because should we have a other spring snow extent well above the trend line like last year. Then this will be the first time it will have happened over 2 years or more since the start of the 1980’s.

March 4, 2018 12:11 pm

I live in Idaho and you wouldn’t believe how much arguing there is for the removal of the upper snake river dams to protect salmon. The frustrating thing is, the salmon ARE DOING FINE with the dams and existing infrastructure and strategies. The total fish count passing through the dam has gone from 47,377 in 1975 to 211,177 in 2017. In Idaho alone, there are at least 10 different areas where new reservoirs have previously been proposed and will likely be built when the need arises.

Reply to  Cray
March 5, 2018 6:21 am

Stick in a negotiating point that to remove a dam there must also be a renaming of the Frank Church Wilderness to a native American name or other.

March 4, 2018 12:21 pm

Only one spot – but record here – at Donner Summit, CA (Near Tahoe) – goes back to 1879. The blue bars represent snowpack. Can certainly see a downward trend up to about 1925 (zip AGW during that period) – but hard pressed to see once since then.
See Fig 2 here:
Trying to find the original graphic – as this is more than a wee bit fuzzy and too small.

March 4, 2018 12:27 pm

Genius of the century if not all times, Mr Elon the Musk will come out with the brilliant idea to build a giant snow making machine up high in the Sierra’s energized by the Solarcity battery packs.
Sacremento should devise a taxpayer funded incentive scheme to encourage his creative mind.

Reply to  ChrisB
March 9, 2018 8:03 am

Elon Musk…
or as I call him…
IT Barnum…

March 4, 2018 12:31 pm

Excellent. So next we quote that paper in The Guardian, and then we have a sourced fact for Wikipedia. And anyone referring to this blog can be blocked from editing. Excellent! *devious laughter* /sarc
There is, in fact, an issue with advocacy scientists, politically leaned journalists, and activists writing to Wikipedia: you can clearly see signs of colluded action in order to exploit community rules. I have withdrawn editing topics related to climate change and related topics, like snowpacks and such, because I feel my work would be wasted as activists try to revert and undo changes that they see politically unfit. The number of activists is high enough for them to make the environment heavily political and to bring motivated reasoning into use. Many other topics, like medical ones, have high requirements for sources but they still are much easier to edit without triggering a holy war against oneself.

March 4, 2018 1:30 pm

One of the reasons Lake Mead is declining are Federal mandates that require releasing more water from the reservoir than nature has put in. Just like in California, the problems and solutions are political rather than with nature.

March 4, 2018 3:31 pm

Through the magic of climate hysteria only snow now replenishes reservoirs and groundwater. Rain just sublimates off the earth or something and never makes it into rivers, reservoirs and wells. Climate science: where the laws of physics and nature are suspended.

Don B
March 4, 2018 4:06 pm

Author Phil Mote is at it again. In 2005 he cherry picked the end points of a “study” to claim that snowpack had declined 50% in 50 years, but if he had shown all the data it would have been obvious that natural variability was the driver of snow, not global warming.
In October, 2016 Mote was lead author of a published paper claiming greenhouse gases were going to produce lower Pacific Northwest snowpack. Immediately after the paper was published, snow started falling, producing massive amounts of snow that following winter. 
And now, this study. Same old, same old.

Reply to  Don B
March 4, 2018 6:39 pm

Thanks, Don B.

March 4, 2018 7:07 pm

California did not have a great snow pack last season, but we had a ton of rain that very quickly filled empty reservoirs. So yes, more reservoirs are the answer.

Reply to  Grant
March 5, 2018 6:24 am

Removing California’s groundwater pumping rights in other states would also be in order.

March 5, 2018 12:41 pm

Remember, OSU is the place where guys like Marcott et al got the hockey stick UPSIDE DOWN, by incorrectly using their own data. Their output is linked to the democrat governor who approves or disapproves what goes out on climate. Just ask George Taylor, Mote’s predecessor.
Toe the line, or get in line at the unemployment office.

March 5, 2018 3:14 pm

The image shows snow in the Tehachapi Mountains!

Tom Dayton
March 5, 2018 3:48 pm

Even after the big snowstorm of the past few days, California’s snowpack is only 37% of average:

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