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New Zealand Snow No Show = No Jobs

Posted on 28 June 2011 by Rob Painting

An unusually warm autumn and early winter in New Zealand 2011 has meant skifields up and down the country are without snow.

Figure 1 - NZ Skifield status. Graphic from New Zealand Herald.

Normally at this time of the year, skifields are heavily covered in snow, and skifield operators are getting ready to open. This winter, however, many skifields are without any snow whatsoever. As skiing is the backbone of New Zealand's winter tourism industry, it's a worrying time for many operators and towns that rely on the income that skiing pumps into the local economy.

Future Snowfall

Long-term projections for New Zealand are for a decline in snowfall as temperatures continue to climb. Across the ditch in Australia, even though they are currently enjoying a great start to the ski season, they too will see a long-term decline in snowfall, snow depth, and a retreat of snowlines to higher elevations - see figure 2 below:

Figure 2 - Simulated 20 year average snow depth profiles at Mt Hotham, Australia (1882m) for the present (1979-1998), 2020 and 2050. From (Hennesey 2003)

A Forgotten Impact of Global Warming: Job losses


Figure 3 - Whakapapa Skifield, New Zealand. Image from New Zealand Herald.

Now before any readers jump to conclusions, the current situation in New Zealand is a combination of a strong La Nina (often wet & warm here) coupled with the inexorable warming of the global climate, I am in no way suggesting that this is the start of a new trend. Indeed if El Nino takes hold later this year, New Zealand should see a cool winter again next year, and of course a cold snap could easily return things to normal (although above average temperatures are forecast for the rest of the winter).

Rather the lesson here is that we have seen a glimpse of a likely future scenario for many skifields, not just in New Zealand, but around the world too. Having shivered through a couple of extremely cold winters over the last two years, I know it must difficult for some northern hemispherians to accept, but they too will face this problem sooner or later.  The end of reliable snowfall is  going to be a major bummer for the 'ski bunnies' amongst us, but it will be a financial disaster for countries, towns and resorts that rely on 'snow tourism' for their livelihoods.

So the next time you read, or hear, of someone claiming a carbon tax will cost jobs, you remind them that there are alternatives to fossil fuels, but no substitute for snow. Global warming is certain to cost many people their jobs. 

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Comments 1 to 14:

  1. After a record warm May 2011 (2.5°C above average) and (possibly) June looks like we've dodged a bullet, a cold snap and light dustings of snow have finally arrived!
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  2. There's been similar issues for the Scottish ski areas until the last few years - they were really struggling for snow some years. That's changed in the past couple of years to bumper conditions, but of course the cause for that is as likely as not global warming-related too, see Jeff Masters' excellent recent post. It will be interesting to see if NZ can be subject to such climate surprises, but I suspect the stability offered by an ice-covered ocean-surrounded continent will not offer the same potential for Arctic/Antarctic air moving out into temperate regions for the southern hemisphere compared to the north. This has created the illusion of a cold world for some in NH regions who fail to see the bigger picture, but maybe that illusion is not possible in the south?
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  3. You can always utilize more advanced snowmaking like at Pitzal Glacier, or a glacier blanket like at Presena Glacier , assuming you have a bit of glacier underneath.
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  4. The last time I ice skated was at Lower Manorburn Dam (NZ) during a student outing in 1977. The ice was thin in places and, falling spectacularly once, I cracked the ice. Sad to think that such pleasures (?) are already (apparantly) harder to come by.
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  5. There's a similar trend in the Alps and Pyrenees in Europe, to the extent that ski resort operators had considered asking for bailouts. A lot try to alter alternative activities, like hillwalking, but it's not a replacement.
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  6. Are the high and low captions reversed on the graph of snow depth?
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  7. 6, newairly, The words "low" and "high" refer to the impact scenarios used to produce the accompanying values ("low impact" and "high impact"), not to the depth of the snow itself. More specifically, from Hennesey 2003:
    Two scenarios were used in the model, both of which were equally likely, but associated with uncertainties. The low impact scenario used the lowest projected warming combined with the highest estimate of increased precipitation. The high impact scenario used the highest projected warming with the highest estimate of decreased precipitation. We have very high (at least 95%) confidence that the low impact limits will be exceeded and that the high impact limits will not be exceeded.
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  8. And, on the other hand on the other side of the globe we have the opposite. Do they cancel out? :) Deep snow delaying opening of sunrise area in Mount Ranier National Park
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  9. apirateloksat50, notice the two to three month difference in time of year the two photos were taken. Ponder how much snow can melt in that time frame.
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  10. Southerly came through last night: daughter setting up for a powder afternoon at Mt Hutt. (snow report). Thanks Rob!
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  11. Scotland has just had a record couple of years for winter sports, the snow lasted longer than for previous years.
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  12. Morph, Scotland used to have long-lasting snow far more in the past - I think the mid-90s was the last time the snow was as good as it has been there over the last couple of years, and the early 80s were good for that too. Who knows if it will carry on but, long-term, the advice would be : 'Enjoy it while you can' !
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  13. Morph, did you read my comment at #2, where I said exactly the same thing, but with context? There are hypotheses that the cause is down to Arctic air not being kept in the Arctic during winter months, and spilling out into mid-latitude areas (while the Arctic is replaced by much warmer air), perhaps down to reduced sea ice. Whatever it is, it's led to years that would be snowy in Scotland by 1960s or 1970s standards, let alone 1990s. The problem is that it's perfectly clear from global temperature anomaly maps that those conditions are not a symptom of general cooling of the NH, but of localised winter cooling surrounded by general warming. The prognosis for Scotland is not good as the NH warms up, these bizarre winters are inevitably doomed to mild out as well, or to suddenly flip back to warm and snow-less. Anyway, this post is about NZ - I think there were other posts about NH winter snows / WACCO?
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  14. Not sure where to ask about global snowlines but is the data available for say 50 years of global snowlines to establish trends?

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