Climate Change May Make Snowpack Smaller, Melt Faster

Jan 8, 2021

Snowpack in California is likely to be smaller and melt faster in a warming climate. It's probable that the same effects will be seen in Wyoming.
Credit NPS / J. Tobiason

Climate change may make snowpack in the coming years smaller and force it to melt earlier in the year.

University of Wyoming associate professor in civil engineering Noriaki Ohara said his team predicted future climates using computer models. They explored 13 different climate scenarios, each reflecting different carbon emissions.

He said the tricky part was narrowing down the global model to look at small regions because they wanted to focus on three important watersheds that supply water for a large portion of California's population. But Ohara said the result is extendable to Wyoming.

"[The] fraction of the snowfall out of the precipitation decreased, so [there was] therefore a smaller snowpack, especially in the lower elevations," he said. "For higher elevations, the snow melts very fast, so therefore the peak season should be earlier."

Ohara said most models measure the effects of air temperature, but this one also accounts for humidity, wind speed, and radiation from the sun.

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