Dry February blamed on climate change

By ZACH FENT  and EMILY FOWLER/Montana State News

February; Love was in the air, but the snow wasn’t.

The trend of falling snow levels and rising temperatures in and around Bozeman has many people in the resort community worried.

People from all over the world flock to the Big Sky country to spend time on the snow-glazed slopes of the Gallatin Valley. Blue-bird days with the sun shining, grabbing a beer slope-side in the ski-in-ski-out shacks with friends and enjoying the luxuries that the resort life offers is what winter in Montana is all about. For so many, it’s a way of life.

Some are beginning to wonder, however, just how long the utopia of winter recreation will last.

Courtney Burns, a senior at Montana State University, is one of them. “I worry for the future of the ski industry and the local shops’ business, of course, but mostly, I worry about the future when I have kids and want to bring them skiing here,” said Burns.

“If Big sky doesn’t have reliable weather and a consistent snow, I think the people who reserve hotels and tickets a year in advanced will stop doing it,” said Burns, “and I already know people who have stopped. That’s not good for our economy, and I hope the cost doesn’t get pushed onto us through higher ticket prices.”

For the past few years, winter has been changing. This year and last, it seems like old man winter may have decided to take the month of February off. In terms of snowfall and temperatures, February is gradually becoming the sprout of spring instead of the heart of winter.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and it is a vital part of the atmosphere that helps to regulate the temperature of Earth. It is commonly measured in parts per million (ppm) which allow scientists to quantify very small amounts of a substance.

The carbon cycle is a naturally occurring process with regulation of CO2 dependent on a plethora of ecological, microbial, and human factors. However, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, human activities since the industrial revolution have been the major driving force behind the accumulation of excessive CO2 in the atmosphere.

There are many ramifications associated with the rise of CO2 on the naturally occurring cycle and for the people.

The American Medical Association states that rising levels of CO2 in the air is becoming a health risk. According to the AMA, CO2 has the potential to cause damage to health such as increasing the risk for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Furthermore, The Geological Society of America credits irreversible alteration of climate such as the shifting of seasons, the melting of glacial ice and the rise of sea levels to the greenhouse gas. The rise of ocean levels should concern all of the world’s people, especially those near the shorelines. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hundreds of millions of people live along coastal areas. But for the inhabitance of Montana’s resort towns, the major concern rests in the fate of the once bountiful cold smoke so many enjoy.

According to NASA’s Global Climate Change measurements of global carbon dioxide emission levels, for centuries, the global level of CO2 has not risen above 300ppm. Today, that level is at 400ppm. The highest levels in the past 800,000 years.

This directly relates to the elevated temperatures, according to NASA’s data. Of the warmest years in history, the Earth has warmed the fastest and most dramatically since 1981. The past 30 years have shown some of the largest spikes in CO2.

Data collected for the Whitehouse.gov website on climate issues, shows a multilevel analysis on climate change for the state of Montana. From 1981 until 1990, the average snowfall level in Big Sky was 41.3 in. According to the U.S. Climate Data research, from 1990 until 2007, there was an average snowfall in Big Sky of 30.74 in. In the past 10 years, 2016 included, the U.S. Climate Data website shows that the average snowfall for Big Sky has fallen to 24.55 in.

Many factors must be taken into account when looking at a region’s weather patterns. Such factors include water table cycles, the omnipresent el nino and la nina events and the simple fluctuations of day to day weather. However, the raw data shows an increased in global and regional temperatures that seem to point to the occurrence of shrinking snowfall levels year after year. This means less of the white stuff coating the mountain tops, and less snow means less people taking to the slopes.

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