Magstadt: Hey, Snowbirds, Don'chya Know? Ice Is Nice And So Is Snow

admin's picture

"Oh the weather outside is frightful. But the fire is so delightful. And since we've no place to go. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"

Nice lyrics, but let's face it, not everybody loves snow.

Snowbirds, for example. You know, the migratory folks who flock to Florida, Texas, Arizona and California every winter. Such salubrious destinations are bound to suffer a drastic reversal of fortunes, however, if dire predictions of global warming come to pass and winter becomes a thing of the past.

Global warming? The only climate change apparent in Colorado at this time of year is the kind that rewards the wisdom of wearing woolens.

Living in the snow-capped mountains of Colorado in winter it's hard to imagine that there isn't enough snow in the world. And easy to see why so many people don't like the stuff.  For starters, cars and snow are enemies. Ditto for car batteries and cold weather.

And then there's the whole problem of snow removal. If you've never shoveled a ton or two of wet snow from a driveway chances are you either don't live in Colorado or you have a very nice neighbor with a big bad snow blower. Anyway, try it sometime. You won't like it. (If you are out of shape, chain-smoke or have a heart condition, don't try it. Seriously.)

Still, despite all the annoyance and inconvenience it brings, snow is good. Really good. And not just for ski resorts and winter sports (hey, it rhymes!). There's a couplet hiding in there somewhere waiting to escape…ski resorts…winter sports. Maybe a couple of couplets. Boxer shorts and weather reports.

Never mind.

Speaking of weather reports, last year's dire predictions of impending disaster due to drought and crop failures did not materialize. And the prospect of a long, cold winter with lots of snow in the Rockies is cause for cautious optimism about 2014.

Colorado's popular ski resorts depend heavily on bad weather to have a good year. The earlier it snows in the fall and the longer it lingers in spring, the better. I recall a sunny day not many years ago when we skied Arapaho late in the season. It was slushy at the bottom and not the best skiing, but, hey, it was May!

Of course, skiing and other recreational pursuits are not the only, or even the best reason to welcome winter. A lot of our fresh water flows out of the world's mountain ranges where it accumulates and is stored in the form of snowpack and ice until the spring thaw. Some is stored for only a few months and with luck is replenished each winter, but a lot is stored for eons in the form of glaciers and icepack — at least until recently.

The glaciers and icepack are critical to the world's freshwater supply because that's a major part of mother nature's "water reserve." Snow accumulation — or weather — varies greatly from one year to the next. Climate, on the other hand, is less fickle, but it does change over time. Climate and weather are related but distinct. Normally, the timeframe for climate change is centuries; weather, on the other hand. can change from one minute to the next — especially in the mountains. Scientists, however, have recorded uncommonly rapid changes in the earth's climate in recent decades — a trend. The trend is imperceptible from one year to the next and doesn't mean there won't be cold weather, harsh winters or mild summers ahead.

But there's no longer any room for complacency: "Throughout the Andes, glaciers are now melting so rapidly that scientists have grown deeply concerned about water supplies for the people living there. Glacial meltwater is essential for helping Andean communities get through the dry season." That's according to climate scientists in a paper released earlier this year by the journal Science and reported in the New York Times. And what's happening there is happening everywhere.

According to the most recent studies, for example, Colorado is facing severe water shortages in the future. Bad news for the many can be good business for a few.

The Climate Corporation is a business that "sells weather insurance, but it is an insurance company the way Google is an encyclopedia company." The company — which also makes hay as a "high-tech agricultural consultant" — crunches great sums of temperature and soil data, some 50 terabytes of weather information every single day, supplying farmers across America with precise information on nearly 50 million plots (see Michael Specter, The New Yorker, Nov. 11, 2013, for a detailed account).

Tom Magstadt writes and cooks in the log cabin of his dreams.  He lives on a mountain in Ouray County and frequents Colorado Boy almost enough to qualify as a regular Visit Tom’s blog at http://open.salon.com/blog/dakotaki.

The implications are arresting. Historically, states like Kansas and Colorado could expect a heat wave every 20 years. "Now it happens every three years or so," according to Climate Corporation chief executive David Friedberg, "and in those years the crops die." His company, by the way, charges about $40 an acre for its crop insurance and provides coverage for some 10 million acres.

If Friedberg is right, we're in for a wild roller-coaster ride in the decades to come. And with some six billion more people on the planet than we had at the start of the last century, we're going to need all the snow we can get.