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Study: Big Sierra snow droughts ahead in the next 30 years

Along with sea-level rise and wildfire extremes, mountain snow loss is quickly becoming one of the top climate change issues facing the West.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As California continues to head through what is feeling like a snow drought this season, new research from Lawrence Berkley Lab shows how this year is just a sign of what’s to come.

Along with sea-level rise and wildfire extremes, mountain snow loss is quickly becoming one of the top climate change issues facing the West.

The paper's authors Erica Siirila-Woodburn and Alan Roades say there is already documented snowpack loss occurring on the order of 20% since the mid-1950s. This isn’t a hypothetical trend; this is climate change happening now.

They added that this alarming trend is happening faster in the Sierra Nevada than other western mountain areas. In fact, in the next 30 years instead of periods of little to no snow, there will be years of this trend.

It's a pattern we haven't seen yet in the Sierra. The projected outcome is bigger water failures if adjustments aren't made now.

For Roades, this study hits home. He grew up in Tahoe and Nevada City, where snow was a part of his childhood.

He says, if carbon emissions aren’t severely cut, we could see more than 50% less snow by the end of the century. Even with an uncertain future of increasing or decreasing precipitation, lower amounts of snowfall as a result of increasing temperatures are expected.

Roades and Siirila-Woodburn say their purpose in writing the paper was to elevate the issue and be proactive about solutions associated with how we might mitigate risk associated with a low-to-no snow future.

In California, some of those solutions are already taking place through successful collaboration programs bringing together climate science and water management.

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