Climate change could bring much earlier water runoff in Sierra Nevada by century’s end
Oct 10, 2017 at 3:00pm
Rebecca Ash, UCLA Newsroom
UCLA climate research shows another way rising temperatures could affect California’s water resources.
California has taken a wild weather ride over the past two years: A historic drought finally came to an end, and the winter of 2016–17 was the wettest winter in decades. Meanwhile, recent studies have projected that climate change will turn up the heat by up to 10 degrees in the Sierra Nevada mountains by the end of the century.
In a study published today in the Journal of Hydrometeorology, UCLA climate scientist Alex Hall and colleagues predicted that by the end of the 21st century, the runoff midpoint for snow and rainwater — the time of year by which half of a year’s precipitation leaves the mountains as runoff — could be an average of 50 days earlier than it is now, and 90 days earlier in some locations. The finding could have serious implications for the state’s water infrastructure, which was not designed to handle such a major shift, according to Hall.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack provides California with more than half of its fresh water, supporting industry, agriculture and household use. Each spring and summer the melting snow replenishes the state’s water supply when it is most needed. But as the climate continues to warm, more of the precipitation in the Sierra Nevada could fall as rain instead of snow, and the snow that does fall would be expected to melt faster than it has historically.
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