Manufacturing snow alarmism at British Columbia's ski resorts

The last year has seen the climate alarmists highlight the potential threat of warming temperatures to ski resorts throughout the United States and Canada, with the hysteria being ratcheted up following the NY Times' infamous piece of warmism entitled "The End of Snow?"

The Globe and Mail newspaper – Canada's equivalent to the NYT – just published an article on "How B.C. [British Columbia]'s ski resorts are coping with global warming's threat to their existence."  Key to the piece is the following figure:

Here is what the figure purports to show: "trends in average winter temperature and snowfall" between 1901 and 2009 for three major ski resorts in British Columbia.  Big White is a ski resort located just east of the city of Kelowna in southern British Columbia.  Cypress is located just north of the major metropolitan region of Vancouver, BC, and Whistler is about 120 km (70 miles) north of Vancouver.  Cypress Mountain was the freestyle skiing and snowboarding venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics, while Whistler was the alpine skiing venue for these Olympics.

So we have data on average winter temperatures and snowfall for these three resorts over a 110-year period that purports to show a perfectly linear temperature increase between 1901 and 2009, and a perfectly "wavy" trend in snowfall over this time frame.  Since when does climate data follow such beautifully smooth curves and straight lines?  Regular readers will know that all climate data has substantial year-to-year variability and cycles.  Why didn't the Globe and Mail publish actual (aka real) climate data?

Moving along, the figure claims that "all data was collected at mid-elevation at the ski resorts."  All data?  From 1901 through to 2009?  Collected at mid-elevation?  How is this possible?

According to the website for Big White:

In 1963 the Serwa's and Mervyn's families started a huge undertaking, creating Big White Ski Hill from scratch. In their first year they had to build a road, a day-lodge and a lift. Imagine trying to build a day-lodge and a lift without the road being completed! The original base area was located approximately where The Aspens is now. In that first year they did successfully complete the road, the day-lodge and the T-Bar. That feat put Big White on the path to becoming what it is today.

The ski resort didn't start getting carved out of the wilderness until 1963, and yet we have accurate winter temperature and snowfall data "at mid-elevation" for the site dating back to 1901?

According to Whistler's website:

In 1960 a group of Vancouver businessmen, led by Franz Wilhelmsen, formed Garibaldi Lifts Limited with the aim of developing an alpine ski area on London Mountain (across the lake from Rainbow Lodge). Their dream: to host the 1968 Olympic Games. While it would take another 50 years and four Olympic bids before Whistler would realize its Olympic dream, Wilhelmsen and his cohorts pursued their ski area plans with great vigour.

And so it was that London Mountain was soon renamed Whistler Mountain (in honour of a local alpine marmot, who 'whistles' when it communicates) and officially opened to the public in February 1966 at the current Whistler Creekside base.

Whistler didn't open until 1966, and yet – once again – we have accurate winter temperature and snowfall data "at mid-elevation" for the site dating back to 1901?

The footnote on the figure indicates this is "un-reviewed data."  That raises even more questions.

There are only two climate stations for Whistler in the Environment Canada online climate database.  The "Whistler" site is at 658 meters' elevation, putting it at the same elevation as the village, and the dataset starts only in December 1976, not 1901.  The "Whistler Roundhouse" site is at 1,835 meters' elevation, which is about mid-elevation for the ski hill, but this dataset doesn't begin until January 1973.

A few years have incomplete monthly temperature and snowfall records during the winter period (December to February) and need to be omitted, but here is the data over what appears to be the entire available time frame from when records begin in 1974 to when they end in 2007.

Good luck reconciling this real data with the figure shown in the Globe and Mail article.  Clearly there is not a perfect linear increase in winter temperatures since 1974, and over the last 30 years of the dataset, there is no significant trend.

The winter snowfall data shows a positive correlation toward more snowfall since 1974 and during the last three decades – with nearly a statistically significant increasing snowfall trend since 1978.  Compare this increasing winter snowfall trend using raw Environment Canada data at the site to the purported catastrophic decreasing winter snowfall trend over the same time period shown in the Globe and Mail's article.

The "Cypress Bowl Upper" climate station is at 1,210 meters' elevation for this ski resort, but the snowfall dataset doesn't begin until 1985 – not 1901 – while the temperature dataset does not start until December 1998 (and then it ends in the winter of 2001/2002).  You certainly can't do much with a less than four-year-long temperature dataset – and I have no idea how you obtain high-resolution data from 1901 to 2009 from less than four years of data in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Similarly, the snow data at this site is so sparse that only 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 have complete winter snowfall records.  Just four winters in total, and no data whatsoever for 1989 to 1998 and 2003 – and the dataset ends entirely in April 2004.

The "Cypress Bowl" site is at 930 meters, or about the same elevation as the lodge.  Its dataset doesn't start until December 1984, and it ends in late 2001 for temperature data and early 2004 for snowfall.  There are complete average winter temperature records for only 15 years, between 1985 and 2001, and there is effectively a perfect non-correlation in winter temperatures over this limited time span.  Once again, in complete contrast to the claims made in the Globe and Mail article.

Even worse, there are only 14 complete winter snowfall records between 1985 and 2002.  The correlation is also toward more snowfall, not less.

There are some other short-term climate stations around the mountain at Cypress, but they appear to be able to extend the record (if suitable for homogenization with the longer-term stations that start in the mid-1980s) out only to 2010.  Thus, at most, Cypress's climate record appears to go only from the mid-1980s up to recent years, the data record is woefully inadequate, and the data that does exist does not appear to support the claims made in the Globe and Mail article.

The same applies at Whistler.  Other short-term stations exist around the mountain, but they do not appear to add to the timeframe before 1973/1974.

Finally, we arrive at Big White.  One climate station ("Big White Mtn Lodge") has only some limited data from 1965 to 1968, while the other station ("Big White") has data from 1981 to 1999.  Dealing with the best real data at hand, there are nearly perfect non-correlations in average winter temperatures and total winter snowfall from 1981 to 1999.  That isn't consistent with what is shown by the Globe and Mail.

We end up with more questions than answers after critically reviewing the Globe and Mail's article on snow alarmism.  Good science journalism shouldn't lead to this.  Future science journalism articles should always give directions to the raw source data that anyone can download and look at to confirm the claims being made in the media.

At the end of the day, the available data doesn't appear to lead to the same perfectly smooth 110-year climate trends for these ski resorts as the newspaper indicates.  Actually, the climate data doesn't tell the same tales at all.