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Snow pack

Mountain Issue: Climate Change on the Slopes

A visible sign of the effects of climate change can be seen on the snow-less mountains of California, where many ski areas have been unable to operate this season. With the loss of snowpack in California, local winter sports resorts have been making the news, from Mt. Waterman in Southern California to Lake Tahoe in Northern California.

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Informing improved water management in the face of current and future climate variability

A decade of collaboration between scientists and California water managers has led to the development of a probabilistic-based decision-support software, called INFORM (Integrated Forecast and Reservoir Management).

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Electricity Demand

Climate change may significantly affect the operation of California's electric power system, in both the demand and supply sides. As temperatures rise, electricity demand will also increase to meet air conditioning and other cooling requirements. This in turn will further escalate the emission of greenhouse gases and the air pollution due to use of unclean sources of energy.

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Loss of Winter Recreation

Continued global warming will have widespread implications for winter tourism. Declines in Sierra Nevada snow pack would lead to later starting and earlier closing dates of the ski season. Toward the end of the century, if temperatures rise to the lower warming range, the ski season at lower and middle elevations could shorten by as much as a month. If temperatures reach the higher warming range and precipitation declines, there might be many years with insufficient snow for skiing and snowboarding. Decreases from 40 to almost 90 percent are likely in end-of-season snowpack under high emissions scenarios in major ski resorts.

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Securing an Adequate Water Supply

Continued global warming will increase pressure on California’s water resources, which are already over-stretched by the demands of a growing economy and population. Decreasing snowmelt and spring stream flows coupled with increasing demand for water resulting from both a growing population and hotter climate could lead to increasing water shortages. By the end of the century, if temperatures rise to the medium warming range and precipitation decreases, late spring stream flow could decline by up to 30 percent. Agricultural areas could be hard hit, with California farmers losing as much as 25 percent of the water supply they need.

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