UNH Climate Research: Less Snow Hurts Economies & Environment

Feb 27, 2018

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New studies say a decrease in snow days as the climate changes is taking an economic toll on states like New Hampshire—as well as an environmental one.

A national report commissioned by nonprofit Protect Our Winters says when snow falls and stays on the ground, spending on winter sports tends to increase. (Read the report here.)

Their latest data shows New Hampshire's ski economy lost nearly $48 million in the worst snow years between 2001 and 2016 – with 12 percent fewer skier visits than average.

The nationwide ski economy lost more than $1 billion, according to the report, co-written by University of New Hampshire research assistant professor Elizabeth Burakowski.

“My biggest concern is the back-to-back warm winters,” she says. “If you have a series of three to four winters that are all terrible, it's going to be really hard to keep people interested in the sport."

If carbon emissions don't decrease sharply in the coming years, Burakowski says this means smaller ski areas will likely go out of business.

Larger resorts will have to find ways to boost revenue in their other three seasons, she says, and spend more money making their own snow.

“They should be using their voice to advocate for action on climate change,” Burakowski says.

She also has a new study out that says without snow on the ground, forests process less carbon dioxide – while grassland and fields absorb more carbon when not covered in snow.

Burakowski says she sees the two studies as closely linked:

"My research obsession is snow and how that's going to change in a warming world,” she says. “And the lens I'm looking at this through is through ecosystem services, or those benefits that we gain from our natural environment when it's functioning properly."

She says those are scientific – snow also reflects sunlight and generates fresh water – as well as cultural and recreational.