We know that climate changes is already impacting on the mountains we love. Longer fire seasons, longer droughts, less streamflow, warmer weather. And, of course, declining snowpack.
As we come to the end of a winter marked by classic Australian ‘Boom and Bust’ snow conditions, it is clear that we are on a trajectory towards milder winters and less snow. Snowpack has been in decline in Australia since at least the 1950s. And there are decades worth of studies, reports and media stories which make it clear what’s happening (for instance this story from The Age in 2018).
A new story published by the ABC written by Thomas Saunders reminds us yet again about what is happening in spite of bumper snowfalls in any particular winter.
2022 was strange – it was warm in May but June saw epic snowfalls, then varying conditions through July and August, finishing with excellent falls in early September. While the inbounds at resorts coped well, the snowpack in the backcountry was erratic, swinging between powder and rain and exposed grass – especially at lower elevations.
This is exactly what climate science tells us – that the impacts will be felt at lower elevations first.
‘So (was it) a bumper season? Maybe even a great season considering the early season dump ensured snow cover from day one.
That’s would be a true evaluation for the higher peaks, but the full story continues a worrying trend, Australian winters are getting warmer and the lower resorts are struggling to hold enough snow to cover a full season’.
This season’s abnormality of good snow up high and poor snow down low is a troubling trend that has become frequent during the past few decades’.
Look across the Alps and you will see it is true. Lower elevation areas like Lake Mountain, the lower slopes of Mt Stirling and Baw Baw struggled to hold a snowbase this winter. Whereas snow used to fall often in places like Harrietville, the snowline is slowly climbing under the influence of global warming (climate change).
Anyone who is paying attention to the state of our winters knows that they are getting more erratic. Often they start later (it’s a rare thing to ski on natural snow on opening weekend) and subject to more rain events, with big impacts on snow pack. While our climatic patterns go through natural wetter and drier cycles, climate science tells us that these patters will become more extreme, with less overall snow and shorter seasons. This means that, over time, snow will increasingly contract only to the highest alpine zones, and as a result, we will experience more crowding in the backcountry. Resorts will spend more money on making snow, potentially reducing the area of available terrain because of the cost of installing snow making equipment across all runs.
Is this depressing? Of course it is. All the more reason to get out and enjoy our wonderful mountains. And to take action to reduce future climate change.
I recently wrote a reflection on the increasingly erratic and fleeting nature of our winters, and these were my take home thoughts:
Sometimes this knowledge immobilises me, but mostly I try to feel it, reflect on it, and figure out how I can be more effective in my activism. I always love the quote from the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard who says that the cure for depression is action. That is my answer to the despair that would otherwise immobilise me.
Action is always the cure for depression.