Monday, November 19, 2012

Blessings of Altitude

It goes without saying that altitude can be a blessing, especially during a warm period in the shoulder season.  While the higher elevations of the Wasatch picked up a gain in snowpack this weekend, the lower elevations, specifically those below the snow line, suffered.

John Paul Gondola Base (8800 ft)
Strawberry Gondola Base (6800 ft)
What a shame to lose all that natural low-elevation snow in the northern Wasatch from a couple of weeks ago.

While this event is simply the result of a relatively warm period and storm, it does provide a glimpse of what we will likely see more of in the coming decades—a greater fraction of precipitation falling as rain at the lower elevations, where the snowpack will also see more frequent cool-season melt events (several studies suggest this is already happening).  On the other hand, the upper-elevations have some insurance against the initial wave of warming given their colder temperatures.  Thus, the contrast between the lower-elevation and upper-elevation snowpack climate will likely increase over the next few decades, and upper-elevation ski terrain will become an increasingly precious commodity.

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