All posts tagged: spring snowmelt

When Does Snow Start Irreversibly Disappearing?

When Does Snow Start Irreversibly Disappearing?

In January 1995, when The Atlantic published “In Praise of Snow,” Cullen Murphy’s opus to frozen precipitation, snow was still a mysterious substance, coming and going enigmatically, confounding forecasters’ attempts to make long-term predictions. Climate change registered to snow hydrologists as a future problem, but for the most part their job remained squarely hydrology: working out the ticktock of a highly variable yet presumably coherent water cycle. “We still don’t know many fundamental things about snow,” Cullen wrote. “Nor do we understand its relation to weather and to climate—the dynamics of climate being one of the perennials on the ‘must figure out’ list of science.” In January 2023, at long last, someone has figured out a formula of sorts for how snow reacts to climate change, and the answer is: It reacts nonlinearly. Which is to say, if we think snow is getting scarce now, we ought to buckle up. Nonlinear relationships indicate accelerated change; shifts are small for a while but then, past a certain threshold, escalate quickly. In a paper published Wednesday in …