Spring snowpack in the mountains of the western United States has not declined substantially since the 1980s, despite significant global and regional warming. Here we show that this apparent insensitivity of snowpack to warming is a result of changes in the atmospheric circulation over the western United States, which have reduced snowpack losses due to warming. Climate model simulations indicate that the observed circulation changes have been driven in part by a shift in Pacific sea surface temperatures that is attributable to natural variability, and not part of the simulated response to anthropogenic forcing. Removing the influence of natural variability reveals a robust anthropogenic decline in western U.S. snowpack since the 1980s, particularly during the early months of the accumulation season (October–November). These results suggest that the recent stability of western U.S. snowpack will be followed by a period of accelerated decline once the current mode of natural variability subsides.
- climate change
- natural variability
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)