“It’s hailing!” I heard the 3-year-old proclaim his weather observation with excitement as he gazed into the backyard.
“That is actually snow,” I said. The ensuing discussion about the difference between hail and snow ended when we agreed we were both ecstatic to see white stuff fall from the sky.
It took us just a few minutes to hatch a plan to get out the boots and gloves and head up to Table Mountain in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to do some sledding.
I guess everyone else got the memo that it was snowing — the winter snow parks were packed in and around the monument. Clearly, there are some people that could not stand the thought of a winter without getting out in snow.
It was nice to have a semblance of a normal winter, and for a moment it felt like everything was OK. But, as we approach late February, the reality is that things are not OK. This has been a terrible snow year.
The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service has been tracking snowpack for decades. They go out and gauge the level and water content of the snowpack at various locations throughout the West. According to the survey, the current snowpack is only 38 percent of average for this time of year compared against the average from 1981-2010.
Ouch. Needless to say, we’re going to have a hard time catching up to average this year.
The Mt. Ashland Ski Area remains closed due to a lack of snow and March is right around the corner. The lack of snowpack can impact everything from irrigation for farms to fishing and more.
After some great sledding runs, getting snow in the face, and a few tears, we were headed back down the mountain, happy as could be. I told the little guy how important it was that we finally have some snow. He wanted, of course, to know why.
I told him that the snowpack is important because it can last into the summer months. In fall when that final snow is melting up on the mountaintops, it is critical to numerous streams and rivers to keep stream flows up and the water cold — essential for many aquatic organisms, including salmon. Plus, all the critters and the people need the water when it is hot and dry in the summer.
What I didn’t have the heart to tell him was that with human-induced climate change, our region is set to suffer catastrophic setbacks, including far less snowpack. Some researchers have forecast a decrease of snowpack in our region by 75 percent by the year 2040. If this doesn’t set off alarm bells in your head, I’m not sure what will.
The good news for our region (yes, there is some good news at least) is that while we may lose our deep snowpack, at least we may continue to see normal levels of rain. The problem is that we will have lower late-season flows in our streams and rivers, and we could be pushed into drought.
Ugh. How very bleak. It’s easy to feel despondent imagining a future in our region without any snow. It may cause even more despair that, even as we experience the effects of climate change before our very eyes, right here, in our region, that some of our elected officials continue to fail us.
Unfortunately, our state Senator Alan DeBoer has spoken out against limits on global warming pollution. Our very own U.S. Congressman Greg Walden, along with President Donald Trump, supports more pollution rather than transitioning to a clean energy economy. Now is not the time to turn a blind eye to climate change.
But please, don’t despair. Well, maybe despair a little. But then take action.
We can make a change. Right here in Oregon, as we are debating clean energy measures, your voice is needed more than ever. It is past time to act. Go talk to our elected leaders and tell them it is past time to address climate change.
If you want to learn more about the potential climate change impacts in our region, log on to www.kswild.org and find our report: "Hotter, Drier, No Less Wild."
— Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.