Are so-called #BlizzardofOz events set to become the new norm?

#blizzardofoz; #snowymcsnowface and #snowmageddon

Hashtags. Yep, we saw just about every one of them last winter. And deservedly so: the so called blizzard of oz events 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 dumped copious amount of snow on the Aussie Alps, bringing joy to punters everywhere.

But are such events really ‘freak’ events, or are they set to become the new norm?

“Does that mean more snow and deeper powder” you ask? Well sorta, but not really.  Let’s take a closer look.

The facts

Clunky hashtags and comparisons with Northern winters flew fast and thick last year, but as those of us who have been around know the Australian snow season has always had its highs and lows:  from 1981, which blew minds with snowfalls upward of 360 cm, to 2006 which delivered a soul destroying 85 cm.

There is no denying that our climate is highly variable and not surprisingly last years’ bumper season had the ignorant minority (ahem, the ‘climate change denialists’) pointing the finger and saying “we told you so” (probably the same people that read this article “Trump to ban snowboarding if he wins the US election“as fact, not satire).

trump-ski
Trump laments the demise of the 80’s when day-glow orange was still fashionable

Yet, despite the frequency of blizzard of oz events last year, the message from climate scientists is just getting louder: temperatures are warming and snow falls are sadly declining. For example, a recent report by CSIRO, predicted that climate change could shrink Australia’s skis season by 20 to 55 days a year by 2050; and that’s under a best case scenario!!

But here’s the thing.

The experts at CSIRO also flag the scale of the variability (or the propensity for very large peaks and very large troughs) in the data.  This variability is also evident in data collected by workers from the Snowy Mountain Hydro Electricity Scheme.  Analysis of these data, which go back to 1954, confirm the declining trend, but also confirm that the variability seems to be increasing!

What this means is, even though we are seeing an overall trend toward less snow fall on average, big powder dumps are still very much possible and ­­– here’s the kicker – potentially more likely given our changing and increasingly variable climate. Take for example, the ‘thundersnow’ conditions associated with Blizzard of Oz 1.0, and the recent tendency for long periods of dry weather, followed by significant events such as Snowmageddon (2016), Blizzard of Oz 2.0 and Blizzard of Oz 3.0.

 

60-feet-snowfall
Yeah, Nah – probably not in our immediate future.

Could this mean events like Snowmageddon and Blizzard of Oz could become more frequent in the short to medium term? With the increasing variability in snow falls  and an increase in ‘extreme’ events, there is certainly an argument for it.

There is a downside however.  Experts predict that big dumps — like the ones we’ve been seeing — will still happen in a changing climate, but top-up snowfalls through the season may be less regular, and potentially interspersed with periods of warmer weather (and possibly rain).

Enter snowmaking

This is where snow making can help. In the short to medium term, snowmaking technology is expected to fill the gaps and provide the tops ups needed between more substantial natural snowfalls. It will come as no surprise then to learn that in the last decade tens of millions of dollars have been spent safeguarding Australia’s ski fields to the ever growing pressure of climate change. Snowmaking is now even possible in temperatures up to plus 30 degrees C. With this investment, it seems our winters are safe for the foreseeable future.

So with further #blizzardofoz events sure to occur in the coming season,  its unlikely we’ve seen the last of these hashtag-worthy, but nauseatingly titled events:

#blizzardofoz; #snowymcsnowface and #snowmageddon

Could these events become the new norm? With increasingly unusual peaks and troughs in weather data and the freak conditions we have seen of late, something tells me they could be….and let’s hope so.

If we were to sum up in a single hashtag:

#mothernaturehasafewmoresurprisesuphersleeveyet

Cover image: courtesy Hotham Alpine Resort

 

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