Climate change could slash snowfall in Southern California mountains

Climate change is likely to wipe a lot of the white from those postcard winter scenes of Los Angeles ringed by snow-capped mountains, according to new research.

A UCLA study released Friday projects a significant decline in snowfall on the ranges that provide a dramatic backdrop to urban Southern California.

By mid-century, the amount of snow draping the mountains could decrease 30% to 40%, researchers say. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, the ranges could lose two-thirds of their snow by century’s end.

That means fewer and fewer days in coming decades will reflect the classic images of sun and snow that have idealized life in Southern California since 1920s citrus-crate labels beckoned to Easterners.

“It kind of cuts to our identity,” said Jonathan Parfrey, a commissioner with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power who is also executive director of Climate Resolve, a local nonprofit concerned with climate change.

The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, is the second study in a series examining the effects of climate change on the Los Angeles region.

Scientists at the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences downscaled 30 global climate-change models to the regional level, factoring in local topography. Professor Alex Hall, a coauthor of the study, said the regional simulations allowed researchers to examine the impacts of rising temperatures at an exceptionally small scale.

The study employed two climate change scenarios.

Under the “business-as-usual” scenario, global greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise throughout this century, pushing up temperatures.

Under the second, “mitigation” scenario, emissions peak within the next two decades and then steadily decline, limiting the temperature climb.

Researchers compared the results with snowfall from 1981-2000, when an average of more than 10 inches a month could fall during the winter at high elevations of the Tehachapi, San Emigdio, San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains. More than 40 inches a month can coat the peaks.

Snow will disappear from the lowest elevations that now receive it, the study concluded.

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