Global Warming and the Future of Skiing, other Snow Sports, and Astronomy in Oregon, including snow drought winter 2014-2015


During the last great Ice Age things were much colder in Oregon. The bitter cold consumed the Northwest for many thousands of years, gradually coming to an end about 12,000 years ago... At its height, Ice Age chill caused average temperatures around the Pacific Northwest to be about 10 degrees cooler than the present.Ford Mustang locked in about 3/4 inch of ice from Ice Storm 2004, which fell over the top of some 5 to 6 inches of snow. That doesn't seem like much until one realizes that such a drop would give the Portland area the approximate temperatures as now exist at 3,000 feet on Mt. Hood! And those ancient Pleistocene winters weren't just long and cool, they were vicious, marked by extreme and frequent cold snaps the likes of which have never been witnessed during historic times. Snow Sport lovers would have often cursed at "too much of a good thing" back then.

East of the Cascade Mountains, picture an enormous ice sheet sitting over the upper part of Eastern Washington and imagine the horrible Gorge winds which that expanse of ice would generate. Let's imagine the East Portland of Old suffering it's fifth east wind episode of an Ice Age winter, with 30-40 mph east winds for the past week, temperatures hovering around 0 degrees F, three to four feet of snow on the ground, and twenty foot deep snowdrifts…..And let's not forget the big ice sheet on Portland's side of the Cascades, the Puget Sound Ice Sheet. At times this ice extended as close as Olympia, Washington and powered additional cold air invasions, these often moist and pregnant with heavy snowfalls....Into all this extreme cold and snow at times would roar catastrophic Ice Age floods, turning the entire Willamette Valley into a polar expanse of jumbled ice. Yes, lower the average temperature of our continent just ten degrees F, and this kind of frozen chaos was what you got. And 150 years ago, when Oregon was first being settled, the region was just struggling out of the grips of what was called "The Little Ice Age" (click for more).

The 21st. Century

But now it is 2018, and the fear of our Time is not of cooling , but of radical warming over a near time frame extending out to 50 to 100 years in the future.... Global Warming * (see discussion at page bottom: "Global Warming vs. Global Climate Change"). The experts warn us that global warming has been underway for decades, its rate is increasing, many stating that it will bring nearly 10 degrees of warming by the year 2100, and severe effect even by 2030. What will this mean for skiing, climbing, backpacking, and all the other snow-related sports and industries in Oregon? The future looks grim, and experts aren't giving us much time predicted scenarios are grim, and 50 years from now, well, you won't recognize the climate of the Pacific Northwest!

Rain, Rain, and more Rain: Pacific Northwest winters will gradually become more and more wet, and the wetness will be composed of more and more rain, because winter temperatures are going to continue to get warmer. Average snow levels will continue to rise year by year, decade by decade. Even now, the major ski resorts at Government Camp on Mt. Hood have been struggling with deficient snows and economic ruin (see image of 2005 drought, 61 degrees and zero snow in early February)....

Actually, the very wet Winter 2005-2006 has been more typical of what's to come than the drought winter of 2004-2005 on, please.....

Winter 2005-2006 has had persistently heavy rains, and temperatures have tended to be above to much above normal during the heaviest rainy spells. The net effect has been especially notable within the vast timbered zones of the Cascades below about 2,500 feet, where there is virtually no snow cover at the end of January. Meanwhile, at the highest areas like 6,000 ft. Timberline Lodge snows are actually about 120% of long-term normals.

But for most of Oregon's children, there have been far too many boring winters with zero snowfall.... Experts predict that such a pattern will continue, and will worsen during the 21st. Century....You are entitled to groan, "Great, just what we wanted! Winters that are even more cloudy, more gloomy, and more rainy!" And the groans ought to get deeper knowing that it'll often be too warm to make good snow up in our favorite mountains! ........ January 2006: Let's take a look at January 2006 to illustrate the general nature of what experts predict will become our new climatic normal-- January 2006 had almost 11 inches of rainfall, much above long-term climatic normals from the past... Every single day of the month had temperatures above normal, from 1 to 15 degrees above the long-term normals from the past...Even though it was January, Portland's coldest month, the temerature never even got close to freezing, the lowest of the whole month was 36 degrees, and by January 30th, this author was noticing many bulbs about to start blooming in his yard and garden. January 2006 had zero snowfall, and only 3 days without rainfall. The sky was rated as "cloudy" every day except two, and those two barely made the category "partly-cloudy." So January 2006, well, GET USED TO IT, say the experts! And more snow droughts are in the future for all but the very highest parts of the Cascade's highest peaks, eg. above about 8,000-9000 ft. For example, below are some pictures from the snow drought of Winter 2014-2015, in February at Pass levels (4000-5000 ft).. And by mid-March 2015, things were even worse, with most of the Sno-tel sites in the Oregon/Washington Cascades and Olympics reporting only 6-20% of normal snowpacks.

OREGON SKI AREAS: Expert projections are grim for Oregon's lower-lying ski areas (see pictures above), but things aren't rosy even for the highest ski areas, such as Timberline Lodge, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Ashland, and Anthony Lakes and Crystal Mountain in Washington... For awhile as climate warms up and winters are wetter, these high elevation areas may begin to actually deepen their winter snowpacks, But gradually the proportion of rainy days, and days with poor-quality snow, will increase to a point of really harming even the highest ski areas, -- only the very highest peaks like Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker will benefit from the plentiful rainfall...... By the turn of the 22nd Century the cold, sunny days with powdery snow that we love so much will have become so rare that youngsters will laugh at the ancient legends telling of "powderhounds" flying through endless acres of fluffy snow.

And what of the warmer months? And what of some of our favorite pursuits?

Spring skiing: as the 21st. Century advances, even the highest ski areas begin to be forced to close down in April, even on good snow years.

Summers: gradually warming up, with a longer period of dry, sunny summertime than at present. This will be nice for awhile, but gradually it will be evident that low lake and river levels, shrunken glaciers, tiny summer snowpacks in the alpine regions, depleted groundwater, retreating forests, etc. are a big problem. Southern California-style chronic water shortages
during the warmer months will become a way of life, and will seriously impact the region's economic expansion and general viability, some experts predict as early as 2050.

Backpackers: as the 21st. Century advances toward the 22nd Century, the trails in the high country melt free earlier and earlier, and even the highest areas become accessible in May. Longer, hotter summers mean that even the highest areas that are now near timberline become afflicted with great heat, fire danger closures, and dried-up streams and springs by early August. In real terms, if temperatures rose 10 degrees F by the end of the Century, it would be equivalent to reducing the elevation of any given hiking area by about 3,000 feet. Thus the cool mountain paradise of 6,500 ft. high Green Lakes in the Three Sisters wilderness area would have high summer temperatures very challenging to its alpine-adapted plants and animals. Over many decades, flora and fauna would radically change. After a few thousand years, timberline trees could advance nearly to the 10,000 foot summits of the Three Sisters. Their glaciers would be history. Visit this informative, if gloomy, set of pages about the severe recessions of the glaciers in the North Cascades over the past several decades.

All Snow Users: climate changes will not just affect downhill skiers, but really all snow-users will find such changes disheartening, dampening their spirits and making them less and less inclined to buy and use expensive snow play gear. Instead, former snow sport lovers may shift into sports such as golf or tennis, or they may spend big money to purchase an expensive in-ground backyard swimming pool to take advantage of the longer, warmer summers. The Portland Metro area of 2100 may sport lots of tennis
courts, swimming pools, and palm trees, and have some real resemblances to present-day Los Angeles.

The Future of Astronomy in Oregon (and in the World at large): ....There is increasing evidence for a secondary causation for global warming apart from the usual increase in Carbon dioxides. This is related to large and growing amounts of thin, stratospheric high clouds created by mankind's ever-increasing air travel via high-flying jets. The article details a mechanism, the net effect of which is to increase Earth's temperatures because these thin clouds allow most of the Sun's heat to pass through to the ground, but then are effective like a greenhouse to inhibit ground heat from re-radiating back to outer space.... In addition, the increasing amounts of high clouds seriously degrade "the view" for both amateur and professional astronomers. Quoting from the article, which I found in AstroMart March 8, 2006: "...Global warming and artificial clouds created by jet contrails may increase so dramatically in the next decades that they may change the Earth's climate and seriously hinder our ability to study the skies from large ground-based telescopes."

"The effect on climate is a topic of much research. "It is already clear that the lifetime of large ground-based telescopes is finite and is set by global warming," according to Gerry Gilmore, an Astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge. "There are two factors. Climate change is increasing the amount of cloud cover globally. The second factor is cheap air travel."

"You get these contrails from the jets. The rate at which they're expanding in terms of their fractional cover of the stratosphere is so large that if predictions are right, in 40 years it won't be worth having telescopes on Earth anymore - it's that soon." To Sum up: more rain, more high clouds, more clouds in general--- all spell increasingly poor conditions for both amateur and professional astronomers in decades to come. That's depressing! (back to Astronomy Main Page)

The Oregon High Desert: climate changes may positively affect this very sparsely-populated region of Oregon, perhaps even bringing back renewed settlement and farming. Right now its climate is too arid and with temperature problems, most particularly its extremely short growing season, in many places between 40 and 80 days a year. Under projected global warming scenarios, rainfall could increase enough to encourage re-colonization, and especially so if the warming is enough to lengthen the growing season to 100-130 days. Increased summer heat could then be coped with via the appropriate choice of crops; for instance, some regions East of the Cascades have been commercially growing sunflowers for many years, and if the High Desert got enough warmer and wetter, it, too, could begin to produce this heat-tolerant crop. Back to High Desert pages.

Visit the link below: it will give you in-depth coverage of a major statewide conference in Washington State which was held October 27, 2005. There were dozens of prominent speakers, and global warming impacts were projected at 20, 50 and 100 years in a great variety of areas from forests and fisheries, to urban water supplies and tourism…..

A RETURN TO THE AGE OF DINOSAURS? Here's an interesting PERSPECTIVE ON GLOBAL WARMING! Paleoclimatologists are those who research and uncover the ancient climates of our Planet. Have you ever wondered why dinosaurs thrived over such vast areas of the Earth for upwards of 100 million years? Part of the answer is that the Planet's climate was radicallyl different, being perhaps 8-10 degrees warmer and with only a very mild temperature "gradient" from equator to poles-- eg. fossils of semi-tropical plants and animals are found within ten degrees of latitude of the Poles (even taking into account continental drift). And one part of why the Planet was so much warmer seems to have been that CO2 levels were much higher; thus, we humans in just a century or so have pumped up our Planet's CO2 so much that one would think that we're intentionally terraforming our Earth, wanting to bring on a return of the dinosaurs! So I introduce our planetary cheer for the Twenty-First Century, "Jurassic Park Forever!" (accompanied by many human screams and loud dinosaur roaring).

Note about the icy automobile picture at top of page: this picture was published in the March/April 2005 national magazine named "Weatherwise," page 32. This glossy magazine is an excellent resource for those with a serious weather interest, but in most areas you won't find it on news stands, and you will need to get it by subscription.



Back to Seneca Page Discussions of Global Warming

Back to Oregon Climate Main Page

Portland's Coldest-Ever Records of Snowfall and Cold-- Years and Dates

Back to OregonPhotos Main page



Page last revised 8/20/2023

Discussion-- "Global Warming" vs. "Global Climate Change"


In recent years, many residents of the major cities of Western Oregon and Western Washington have been baffled by a certain contradiction within the rhetoric of global warming. While many in this region listen to the scientific evidence and "believe" in global warming, in their daily lives they wonder repeatedly, "WHERE IS THE WARM IN GLOBAL WARMING?" (and this is espcially true for those living in Western Washington because the pattern intensifies the further north one lives).... While there is ample local evidence of "warming" in the obvious retreats of so many Northwest glaciers, to the average person on the street the their local climate has not seemed hotter, drier, or sunnier, in fact, there has seemed to be a trend toward cloudier, somewhat wetter weather year-round. Maybe a little warmer in winter, but summers arriving rather late and seeming to have lots more clouds and humidity than in the past. Sure, there are heat waves now and then, but the drought-stricken, heat-blasted, sun-blasted summers that Western Oregon and Western Washington used to have (eg. in parts of the 1920s and 1930s) seem strangely absent, especially for a time that the scientists and politicians all say is related to WARMING.....

Some scientists talk about GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE as a kind of alternative lens through which to view things. Their view makes a lot of sense to me because it explains why an overall warming of the Earth can result in a huge variety of local climate effects, ranging all the way from heat-stricken, drought-stricken, up to certain areas actually made much colder and brought perhaps to the edge of another "Little Ice Age," such as affected North America and Europe generally from the 16th through the 19th Centuries. An excellent and sobering exampe is the theory that the warm waters currently pouring off the melting polar ice could soon reach a "tipping point" wherein the warm Gulf Stream currrent could become severely disrupted, shutting down the lifeblood warmth the allows the dense civilizations of Great Britain and Scandanavia to flourish. Closer to home, such a Gulf Stream disruption would also have severe consequences for all the major US cities along the Atlantic Coast, especially the big ones like Boston and New York City. Were a Little Ice Age to descend upon such US cities, the impact would be unprecedented in modern times.

A second prong of thought among the GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE scientists is that it is not just "Warming" that is at issue. They believe that there is a phenomenon of ACCELERATING CLIMATE CHANGE. One way to look at this factor is to realize how much farmers, and society as a whole, rely upon their local climate to remain more or less the same year after year. However, if the pace and intensity of "good" and "bad" years for agriculture, for example, increases, even in areas where the effects are not necessarily hotness and drought, the economic effects can be serious, eg. a huge flood year with not enough sun for good agriculture, followed by a year of much heat and sun, followed by a year that isn't wet but does have a very long, harsh winter would EQUAL a high degree of change and instability in climate. Such instability has very adverse effects on human civilizations; eg. look at a world globe, and note the high percentage of Earth's major cities that are located in areas that tend to have generally stable, consistent climatic patterns.

Here in Western Oregon/Western Washington, we know there is a long-term pattern of lessened lowland snow, and of big glacial retreats up in our high mountains. That much is clear. But exactly how Global Warming/Global Climate Change will play out for us locally remains to be seen. I myself see much evidence that the US desert belt is expanding northward, while the storm-bearing jet stream is in fact being shifted northward as well, causing the Pacific Northwest (esp. above 45 degrees latitude) to be generally somewhat more stormy, cloudy and cool..... Let's hope that such events as the horrendous rains of November 2006, for example, are not the harbinger of increasing numbers of such unusual and disruptive climatic events.

Copyright 2007-2023 by Bruce B. Johnson