What does climate change mean for the Northwestern portion of the United States? An in-depth report from the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington provides some grim answers to that question. Among the “highest confidence” predictions for this region include: warmer temperature throughout the year, decreased summer water supply, and increased probability of drought. Skier translation: more rain and less snow in the winter. But perhaps the most surprising finding is the speed of change. The authors point out significant impacts in just the next ten years: an April 1 snowpack decreased by nearly 30 percent across the state by the 2020s and a 65 percent snowpack reduction by the 2080s.
The prospect of a loss in hydropower due to this reduced snowpack has already caught the attention of the region’s electricity experts and utilities. In fact, the authors estimate that summer production from the Columbia River hydropower system could drop by 16 percent by the 2040s.
The analysis was based primarily on computer models used to forecast how the globe’s climate is likely to change in the future as greenhouse gases trap heat close to the Earth’s surface. According to the World Meteorological Organization, models are important tools for simulating and understanding climate, and there is considerable confidence that they are able to provide credible quantitative estimates of future climate change, particularly at larger scales. For an in-depth look at the state of climate change knowledge, including more information on climate change modeling, check out the US EPA’s State of Climate Change website.
The Washington state legislature sponsored the study because it needed a region-specific analysis of how climate change might impact the pacific northwest. The report comes as Gov. Chris Gregoire lobbies the Legislature to create new regulations forcing Washington industries to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. The proposal has met with strong opposition from business groups and some lawmakers, who warn it could hurt industries struggling in the recession.
Of course, not just he Northwest will struggle with reduced snowpack. The eastern US could be even harder hit and a study by two Colorado researchers says Aspen Mountain in Colorado and Park City in Utah will see dramatic changes even with a reduction in carbon emissions.