How Montana ski areas are adapting to the climate crisis

Wet, slushy snow is falling on a spring morning in Bozeman, and Cathy Whitlock, looking out her window, can see a part of Montana’s climate future — one where snowpack vital to the state’s water resources and economy becomes scarce.

The morning’s mix of snow and rain, Whitlock said, is an increasingly common type of precipitation that accumulates less as snowpack, leaving Montana without the natural frozen storage it needs to hold water in its mountains before melting and replenishing rivers, lakes and reservoirs in summer.

Whitlock, a climate scientist at Montana State University, is discussing the results of the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment (GYCA), a June 2021 report she authored with a coalition of scientists studying how climate change will affect the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) of the northern Rocky Mountains.

By the middle of the century, the report predicts, increasing temperatures in the region will decrease the amount of precipitation falling as snow and shrink the snowpack to a fraction of what it once was. Scientists have already documented a significant rise in temperature and decline in snowfall between 1950 and 2018, leading to a notable loss in snowpack.

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