Here come some more inconvenient facts. Google “warming in the Alps” and you’ll get funeral oration for the European ski industry because temperatures are soaring, snow is disappearing and winter as we know it is ending. But what do the data show? A detailed study of winter temperatures at summit locations across the Alps over the past 50 years comes up empty. Overall temperature has risen only 0.7°C, which is enough to get some people blowing the second trumpet, but which is statistically indistinguishable from zero. And if you drop the 1970s, known to be unusually cold, there’s no trend at all. The author of the study remarks “There is an astonishing contrast between official measurements and public opinion.” You don’t say.
To be fair, if some parts of the planet are warming faster than others, then it is logically necessary that others should be warming more slowly. But as we have noted, journalists and activists always say their own spot is heating up like a barbecue. Thus, for instance, “At the scale of the European Alps, over the course of the 20th century, temperatures have risen by 2°C (3.6°F). This rise is greater than the French average of +1.4°C (2.5°F) and double the increase recorded in the northern hemisphere.” Which comes from CREA Mont Blanc, aka the Research Center for Alpine Ecosystems. We actually wrote the first half of this paragraph before Googling “warming in the Alps” confident we’d run into the “faster than average” claim at the first hit. And remember the real test of a theory is its capacity to predict, in this case that an outfit in the Alps would say they were warming faster than average.
That same search turned up “How Climate Change is Affecting the Alps” by an outfit called “Run the Alps”. It said “While temperatures have risen by 2.5°F (1.4°C) in France over the 20th century, they have risen by 3.6°F (2°C) in the European Alps. Warming is amplified in mountainous regions because as snow cover melts, it reveals dark rocks which absorb more of the sun’s rays. Year-on-year warming is becoming the trend with sixteen of the seventeen last years being the hottest on record.”
That piece added that “The effect of climate change on precipitation varies regionally. Globally, precipitation amounts have not changed much, but in the Alps, we are experiencing increasing instances of drought and less snow cover.” Although oddly CREA Mont Blanc said “Although global precipitation patterns have not changed significantly over the course of the 20th century, considerable regional and seasonal changes have been observed. Since 1960, winter precipitation has significantly diminished in the south of France, while an increase has been recorded in the north. In the Alps however, located at the crossroads between the Mediterranean and Atlantic weather systems, the differences are extremely localized.”
A bit of a contradiction there. But let’s not get distracted by details. Time thrust all its chips in on this issue, saying “Green and brown, it appears, are the new white across the southern European peaks as climate change, which historically has done its most noticeable damage closer to sea level, now reaches higher. From 1960 to 2017, the Alpine snow season shortened by 38 days – starting an average of 12 days later and ending 26 days earlier than normal. Europe experienced its warmest-ever winter in the 2015-16 season, with snow cover in the southern French Alps just 20% of its typical depth. Last December was the driest in 150 years of record keeping, and the flakes that did manage to fall didn’t stay around long.” The piece being undated, it’s not entirely clear when “last December” was. But in it the future is as clear as it is bleak: “The snow line… is about 3,900 ft., which is a historic high in some areas. But worse lies ahead as scientists predict melt even at nearly 10,000 ft. by the end of the century.”
At the risk of seeming cranky, Planetski reported on Dec. 7 2020 “Historic levels of snow falls in parts of the Alps”. Weather is, of course, variable, and so is precipitation. But if the winter temperature isn’t changing at all in the European Alps, and CREA Mont Blanc says changes in precipitation are “extremely localized” then what’s this business about runaway warming wrecking the ski industry? Something called “Style Attitude” may say “The data provided by Météo France on the measurement stations of Grenoble, Chamonix, Chambéry and Bourg-Saint-Maurice all go in the same direction, that of a warming trend in winters. A particularly visible situation since the 1990s.” But if self-described “researcher on the future of skiing” Günther Aigner is right, it’s not happening in the Swiss, German or Austrian Alps. So not much of a trend, and not to blame for anything.