Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Snow drought forces Colorado to Face Frightening New Climate-Change Reality by David O. Williams

                                                  The massive Hayman Fire near Denver in 2002 (Forest Service).

“We have had some very unusual weather so far this season,” Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said Friday. “For the first time in 30 years, a lack of snow has not allowed us to open the back bowls in Vail as of January 6, 2012, and, for the first time since the late 1800s, it did not snow at all in Tahoe in December.”

Vail saw eight inches of new snow on Saturday, but it still wasn’t enough to open the vast majority of the mountain. Ski industry woes aside, state water watchers and firefighters are nervously eyeing the miniscule mountain snowpack, which supplies so much of the water used by Front Range cities. As of Dec. 30, snowpack in the Colorado River basin was 44 percent of last year’s record level and just 63 percent of the annual average.

“[The drought] will make the beetle epidemic even more severe,” said state Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Snowmass Democrat who’s introducing a bill in the legislative session starting Wednesday that’s aimed at reducing the fire danger from a mountain pine bark beetle epidemic that has killed millions of acres of Colorado lodgepole pines. “What doesn’t burn down will blow down.”

But just as it lacked scientific validity to point to Vail’s record 525 inches of snowfall last season as proof that climate change is a hoax (which many conservatives gleefully did), ski industry experts say it’s wrong to totally blame the current drought (just 88 inches so far at Vail) on human-caused heating of the planet.

“You can’t take weather, which is what we’re experiencing, and make deductions about climate, which is the long-term trend,” said Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, which is suffering through an equally dry season. “But you don’t need to, really. All you need to do is look up the GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) NASA global temperature anomaly maps of the world and look at December. It’s insane, and each decade gets hotter.”

Still, it’s turned into the kind of summer-like ski season in the Rocky Mountain West that the new Mitt Romney – the front-running GOP presidential nominee Romney – should love. Not the 2002 version who turned a profit with the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and as recently as June said, “I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.”

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