What Are We to Expect?

February 10, 2015

It's a hard reality when you begin to take note of the dismal effects of global warming. There are signs during the winters, rain and rainbows, among other days that are way too warm. But until now a lot of those days have been limited to inconsistent and fleeting occurrences. Now, according to the UAC, we're seeing our 36th day in a row (!!) of above average temperatures. While today was nice and a bit chillier, it's going to warm up to somewhere in the 50's along the Wasatch Front in Utah. Cyclists are all over the place. People are wearing shorts. I've been wearing shorts. And T-shirts. Keep in mind today is only the 10th of a normally deep-winter month. I'm worried. A little frightened.

The frightning part isn't so much that it's so warm and that snow is disappearing. While that's a depressing part of mountain life and cyclical changing temperatures, what concerns me is that the general poplulace doesn't seem to care. In fact, the reaction to warm weather in the heart of what should be the coldest time of year is one of welcoming, not restlessness to a climate concern.

"I'm all for global warming." Things I've heard spoken by patrons of Starbucks Coffee shops, among others. Besides a myriad of other reasons, I've abandonned going to Starbucks mostly because I rather not listen to idiotic banter between caffeinated idiots. Whether or not global warming is accelerated by human industrial activity (I do believe it is), global warming should be a frightening idea. Think about the implications and not just as a skier.

Utah is a desert. It's home to me. I've always listened to folks talk about how bad of a drought we're in. Every year. I used to say, "Get used to it, we're in the desert." But the demands of a living population require more water upon which we draw from the mountain snowpack. California has a measurable problem.. they rely on their snowpack for nearly 1/3 of their water. If that doesn't startle you, you're clearly doing something wrong. If you agree that it's an expected phenomena but don't think it merits further attention I hope you've already figured out a way to deal with the coming shortage of water. When the water can no longer be stored as snow in the mountains we lose valuable reservoir effect.

I call it a "reservoir effect" because that's what it seems to be. I'm no expert but it's an obvious thing. The best part about that high mountain reservoir of frozen water? Skiing. If it's there, I can get to it. If it's not then I start to worry about crops and fuel, their resultant prices, and of course, water for drinking. Not terribly concerned about golf courses or lawns. Not terribly concerned about clean cars. I'm concerned about water for our crops and our bodies.

It's a dismal picture when I go in for a full day backcountry tour to find our approach on dirt and then slush, then ice and finally snow as we gain elevation. These approaches normally would be entirely on snow in previous years in February. But something is amiss. You shouldn't be mowing your lawn in February. Not in northern Utah.

So the ecomonic implications don't seem so obvious do they? Utah is married to the winter tourism industry. Tourists spend, on average, $7.5 billion a year coming to and enjoying Utah. $1 billion of that counts as state tax revenue. (Check out this PDF provided by the state) How much of that is snow driven? I would venture to say that a large portion of it is. Folks over at Ski Utah agree. In 2012, snow driven sports appear to command 17% of that $7.5 billion. It represents 15% of the tourism jobs. What happens if we just can't offer the kind of ski vacation experiences we have in the past? People stop coming, so does the revenue.

Word comes on the social media wind that New England is seeing a crazy winter; Tahoe area has had many resort close operations for lack of snowfall and extremely warm temperatures; raining in Alaska?; there's so much dismal news about the lack of winter. What lies before us? What hope can we have for the rest of this winter? We can only hope that what's ahead isn't a scary dream.

Take advantage. Ski everyday you can. Conserve your water.

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