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Dreaming of a Climate-Changed Christmas

Climate change is expected to increase snowfall in some places, and slash it in others.

By Francie Diep


(Photo: Martin Thomas/Flickr)

Perhaps this Christmas looks different to you than ones of years past? If that’s the case, you’re not alone: Between 1930 and 2007, snowfall patterns changed for several parts of the United States, according to an analysis of American weather-station data published in 2009. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, some weather stations are seeing less than half as much wintertime snow than they used to, while the Great Lakes region has received modestly more snow.

Many of these alterations are linked to climate change. In most regions, warmer temperatures mean that more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, and snow tends to stick around less, making for fewer white-dusted days.

Around the Great Lakes, the situation is more complicated. Scientists predict a warmer climate means the lakes will be less likely to be frozen over during the winter. Liquid lakes evaporate more, create more clouds, and snow more often — effects that may be responsible for the changes the region has already seen.

Changing snowfall can have far-ranging effects on local economies and ecosystems. In California, reduced mountain snowpack in the winter means less water for everybody to use during the summer. In recent years, snow-sport towns have found their busy season shortened and their business increasingly unpredictable, as InsideClimate News reported last year. The fates of certain plants and animals are tied to snowfall and snowpack. Whether winters are white, and how they compare to past seasons, is more than a matter of nostalgia.