It’s no mystery that we’re having a bad ski season. I am 23 and have lived in Seattle since I was 4 and I cannot remember a winter as bad as this one. This isn’t just in the Pacific Northwest but all along the Western coast of the United States. While smaller resorts like Snoqualmie and Hoodoo pass in Oregon are closed due limited coverage the North Eastern portion of the United States is getting nuked with storm after storm where not just the mountains are receiving tens of feet of snow but also the inner city.
Until this year I didn’t think that global climate change would have a direct impact on me, but after a season like this one the only thing that I can think about is how in the world did we get to where we are today. As a senior at Seattle University I had to decide what classes I would be taking this winter quarter. With wanting to work on the weekends and help out Greg with M2S as much as possible I had to create a class schedule that would allow me to take the classes I needed to graduate, give me time to work, and study. One of the classes I chose is called Arctic Environmental Change and this class has completely opened my views about climate change and has helped me understand why we are getting no snow and why the East Coast is getting slammed. Through what I have learned in this class I am going to briefly explain why we are not seeing snow this year and what the outcome is looking like for the snow industry on the West coast.
Yes we are having a pineapple express year, with high-pressure systems that bring warm air from the Pacific Ocean and onto the west coast, but regardless of that, there are still some global climate events that have an impact on us. The two that I feel are the most important, and that have the most effect. The two that I am going to focus on are the Albedo effect, and the shift in the polar vortex.
What color t-shirt will you wear on a warm sunny summer day? Most likely not a dark shirt because as we have learned from a young age dark colors retain heat while light colors repel heat. This is the Albedo effect, but instead of t-shirts its ice and water in the arctic. With the declining ice in the arctic the light and heat from the sun get trapped in the water rather then reflecting off of ice. As this water warms due to absorbing the sunlight, it melts the surrounding ice. We have created an endless cycle at this point. With the water temperature going up, so is the air temperature. Because of this it is inevitable that we will have more pineapple express style systems that keep the west coast warm. Below is a diagram representing the Albedo effect, it gives the different percentages of light reflected on different surfaces.
The next aspect of climate that has changed is the polar vortex and its location. The polar vortex is a large pocket of very cold air, typically the coldest air in the northern hemisphere, which sits over the polar region throughout the winter. As I have said earlier the polar vortex has shifted, it is no longer in its original position over what we would call the North Pole. It is currently located somewhere over North Eastern United States and Canada. This is the reason that the Eastern parts of the United States are getting snow and temperatures like they have never seen before. You may be thinking that this does not explain why we are getting warm air, but there is one aspect I haven’t touched on yet and this is the jet stream. The jet stream is a cycle of both warm and cold air that goes around the world and usually sits over Canada and below the polar vortex. Because the polar vortex has shifted so has the jet stream and we are being affected by more air that when mixed with the pineapple express remains warm.
Above is a perfect map of planet earth and where the polar vortex is located plus we can see that the jet stream is warped below the polar vortex. So yes we may not be having the best ski year in a long time, but that’s okay, were making it work. Here at M2S we have set up a touring rental program, fully equipped with top of the line equipment just so that we can get people on the mountain and enjoy the outdoors. Just because alpine skiing isn’t on point this year doesn’t mean that its time to give up. Global climate change is not a myth and it is happening. What this means is that we can all band together and try and do our best to reverse what is going on in the climate, and we can keep doing what we are doing best which is making best of what we get each year, because here in the northwest its what we do best.