Sudden Recent Climate Warming & Effects On Western Mountains

Scientists have been stunned by a recent surge in climate warming, potentially exacerbated by warm waters during the recent El Nino event, per E&E News [paywalled]:

Global temperatures rose by a record-breaking amount between 2014 and 2016, new research finds.

Over the course of three years, mean surface temperatures jumped by nearly a quarter of a degree Celsius, or more than 0.4 degree Fahrenheit. That’s a whopping 25 percent increase over the total amount of warming the Earth has experienced in the last 150 years. The research is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“As a climate scientist, it was just remarkable to think that the atmosphere of the planet could warm that much that fast,” Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona, one of the paper’s authors, said in a statement.

Basically, it appears that most of the warming on Earth over the past few decades has been absorbed by the oceans, which then released a lot of that heat during the recent El Nino event.

This kind of data isn’t exactly news to those who have seen the changes on the ground, particularly in our western mountains. Take for example the reclusive 67-year-old Billy Barr, who has spent the last 46 years in a remote cabin in the Rocky Mountain woods. In a Denver Post profile, Barr describes how he began taking notes every day on weather in 1974 out of boredom, recording the low and high temperatures, snow-water equivalent and snowpack depth.

He doesn’t necessarily analyze his data. But he’s seeing a trend: It’s getting warmer. The snow arrives later and leaves earlier.

Lately, he’s charting winters with about 11 fewer days with snow on the ground; roughly 5 percent of the winter without snow. In 44 years, he’d counted one December where the average low was above freezing — until December 2017, when the average low was 35 degrees.
Interview with billy barr, accidental captain among climate researchers
Denver Post

More than 50 percent of the record daily highs he’s logged have come since 2010. In December and January this season, he already has counted 11 record daily-high temperatures. Last year he tallied 36 record-high temperatures, the most for one season. Back in the day, he would see about four, maybe five record highs each winter.

Meanwhile, Colorado just had its second-warmest year on record and is now at a 30-year low in snowpack. And in California, a study published in the hydrological science journal Water shows that in Tahoe and the northern Sierra Nevada mountains, the average elevation of the “snow line,” where snow turns to rain during a storm, has risen roughly 236 feet over the last 10 years.

All in all, the global data show more of these on-the-ground changes in our near future.