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Snow-Free View Of Mount Shasta Prompts Climate Worries

 Bolam glacier on the north side of Mount Shasta photographed in 1977, 2012 and 2018. Warming temperatures have been causing the seven glaciers on Mount Shasta to shrink.
Bolam glacier on the north side of Mount Shasta photographed in 1977, 2012 and 2018. Warming temperatures have been causing the seven glaciers on Mount Shasta to shrink.

Having so little visible snow on the 14,000-foot Northern California mountain is unique, but it’s not a first.

“It’s not true that it’s unprecedented to have so little snow or almost no snow. It does happen. But it’s been happening more because of the last 20 years we’ve had a lot more droughts than before that,” says Ryan Sandler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Medford, OR.

While the south and west sides of the mountain, which are visible from Interstate-5, is virtually snow-free this summer, the more remote north and east sides still contain seven glaciers. However, with less snow to protect them from the sun, they too are shrinking.

Sandler says the last time there was no significant snow on Mount Shasta was likely during the summer of 2014 when California was also experiencing a drought.

This year’s below-average snowpack has affected recreation, says Nick Meyers, the lead climbing ranger with the Forest Service on Mount Shasta.

“It’s affected climbing the mountain, it’s affected hunting and just general recreation, off-road use around the mountain. Multiple road systems have been compromised,” Meyers says.

Above-average temperatures, fewer freezing temperatures overnight and rain have also sped up glacial melting and created mudflows sloughing debris and rocks down the mountain.

The low snowpack is an indication of the region’s drought. That will have impacts throughout the watershed, including less water in the Shasta Lake reservoir, in the Sacramento River, and for agricultural irrigation.

Sandler with the National Weather Service says unlike other parts of the country, California relies on a few very strong storms each year to provide rain and snowpack. Missing those “atmospheric river” events can be a shock, but that’s the trend.

“A lot of things, when it comes to this changing climate, people don’t really notice,” Sandler says. “But you certainly notice when glaciers shrink and the snow is less and less over time on the mountain. It’s kind of a visual indicator.”

Copyright 2021 Jefferson Public Radio