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'Regional climate modeling' provides clearer picture of climate change impacts in PNW

Tim Durkan

KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass has been working with a group of atmospheric researchers at the University of Washington hoping to get a better idea of the impact climate change will have on the Pacific Northwest. The group has been conducting "regional climate modeling."

"Many people know about global climate models," Mass said. "We keep on hearing about it, how the earth will warm with a certain amount of increase in greenhouse gases. The trouble with these global models is that they don't have enough resolution, enough detail, to define the weather in a place like the Northwest."

Mass says the models don't include the land-water features found in this region, or the terrain, including the Cascades and Olympics. That makes it difficult to get an accurate understanding of what climate change will mean locally.

"What we've done is we've run 12 times a very high resolution weather prediction model for 130 years," he said. "But just over the Northwest. So, we use the global climate models to define what's happening on the whole planet and then we telescope in."

The models are showing there will be warming, but how much will depend on your location. Mass says the coastal areas won't see as much of an increase as the east side of the state. He also found that precipitation is expected to increase over the year, but the summer is expected to be more dry. And there will be a major issue with the state's snowpack.

"You look at the snowpack in the Cascades and the Olympics and it's startling how far it falls," Mass said. "By the end of the century, the snowpack at medium to moderate elevations... will be down by 75 percent... if we keep on doing what we're doing."

Mass says the group of researchers ran the model with the "worst case scenario" in mind. The findings could be used to help leaders plan ahead for concerns about reservoirs and where people may need to move. But he's hoping this information will push people to make changes now to avoid what could be in the future.

Weather with Cliff Mass airs at 9:02 a.m. Friday, right after BirdNote, and twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, anda popular weather blogger. You can also subscribe to podcasts of Weather with Cliff Mass shows, viaiTunes or Google Play.

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.