May 23. 2014 10:59PM

Kuster: 'Dramatic changes' seen in climate

Union Leader Correspondent

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, left, and Congresswoman Annie Kuster of New Hampshire host a roundtable discussion on climate change Friday at Zimmerman’s Ski and Snowboard in Nashua. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA — New Hampshire ski, travel and tourism representatives met on Friday to discuss climate change and how it is affecting the Granite State economy. U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., joined 2nd District Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., to host the roundtable discussion, hearing feedback from area ski resort owners and a climatologist from the University of New Hampshire.

“The big picture is that we are getting wetter, and we are getting warmer,” said Dr. Cameron Wake, the UNH climatologist. The snow-covered dynamics is making big changes in New Hampshire, and it is impacting winter recreation, according to Wake.

In New England, there has been a more than 70 percent increase in heavy precipitation events, with about 15 incidents taking place in Nashua in the last decade that involved more than four-inches of precipitation in a quick amount of time, he said.

“The impact of climate has been so broad here in New Hampshire,” said Kuster. “ … We are seeing dramatic changes.”

Some of those changes include a significant delay in winter temperatures, forcing winter recreation to start later, according to officials.

Two years ago, Lake Winnipesaukee was not frozen by Feb. 1, prompting a popular pond hockey tournament to be moved.

“I just think that is a terrible loss for us,” said Wake, adding outdoor recreational activities are being moved indoors.

In addition, if there is no snow in the backyards, families are sometimes not inclined to head north for skiing and other outdoor sports, according to Stefan Hausberger, owner of Zimmerman’s Ski and Snowboard in Nashua where the roundtable discussion was held.

Hausberger said his shop is selling more high-end ski equipment because newcomers are not coming through the door. He believes the lack of snow on the ground in southern New Hampshire is resulting in a loss of introductory skiers.

A few years ago, there was a lackluster snowmobiling season because of a shortage of snow, said Lori Harnois, Travel and Tourism Development director for the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development.

New Hampshire tourism is the second largest industry in the state with 34 million visitors spending a combined $4.6 billion during their trips.

“So it is definitely a vital industry for New Hampshire,” she said, adding the climate change is making businesses adapt for the future.

Ben Wilcox of Mount Cranmore, who also serves as the board chairman for SkiNH, said snowmaking originated as a complement to natural snow.

Six years ago, Cranmore was using 40 to 50 snow guns for its trails. Now, it is using 150 snow guns because of improved snowmaking technology.

“We need to make snow faster, more efficiently and use less energy,” said Wilcox. “It has become the nature of what we do.”

“You are adjusting to the reality of what is to come,” responded Kuster.

According to Whitehouse, the impact of climate change is apparent even for V.F. Corporation, which owns popular companies like The North Face.

He is hopeful that legislation will eventually be approved to reduce carbon pollution — perhaps as early as next year.

“It is a very big deal for Rhode Island,” said Whitehouse, noting large storms have created more ocean along the shores, heavy river flooding in the spring and tropical storms are happening later in the year that before.

“We are going to start experiencing this vicious cycle,” said Wake, who said two or three snowless winter seasons could devastate smaller family-owned businesses in the northern New Hampshire.