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Historical Climate Warming in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (USA): Implications for Snowmaking Water Needs at Ski Areas

Author:
Wilson, Geoff, Green, Mark, Mack, Ken
Source:
Mountain research and development 2018 v.38 no.2 pp. 164-171
ISSN:
0276-4741
Subject:
global warming, mountain resorts, mountains, recreation areas, snow, temperature, vacations, winter, New Hampshire
Abstract:
The objectives of this study were to examine changing snowmaking conditions in the New Hampshire White Mountains and how changes in snowmaking operations have compared with winter warming. We analyzed three 50-year high-quality daily temperature records representing different elevations and aspects to assess changes in snowmaking conditions during important snowmaking periods. The analysis provides context for discussing the historical relationships between temperatures, water, and snowmaking infrastructure. There was significant warming of winter temperatures over the 50-year record, notably strongest at the early portion of the snowmaking season, especially in the weeks between 1 December and 25 December. While the rates of warming were comparable on both north- and south-facing aspects, the implied reduction in days suitable for snowmaking in each period was always lowest on the north-facing aspect as the mean temperatures on this aspect were farther below the snowmaking threshold. Daily average temperatures of –2°C and –5°C were both explored as thresholds for snowmaking. The implied reduction in snowmaking opportunity during the 1 November to 25 December period using a –2°C snowmaking threshold at the north-facing site was 20%, while the implied reduction for the entire season for that site was 8.5%.This decrease in opportunity for snowmaking, especially in the economically important early season, suggests an increasing need for large volumes of water to make snow in less time, given that holiday vacations are fixed in time. Analysis of snowmaking operations at Loon Mountain Resort suggest that modern snowmaking investments there have outpaced the pressure from climate warming to date, but this has concentrated demand for water into smaller time frames.