Climate change poses a sweeping threat to New Hampshire’s winter sports and tourism industries, with shorter and warmer winters, muddier springs and “flash droughts” foreshadowing skiing conditions similar to those at resorts in the South, scientists say.

“We’re losing the cold,” said Elizabeth Burakowski, a University of New Hampshire researcher, during a virtual panel discussion on climate change impact this week.

Burakowski said decreases in the numbers of below-freezing days and extreme-cold days pose problems for ski areas trying to make and keep snow.

As a region, “we’re warming faster than other parts of the U.S.,” Burakowski said, with several models predicting that New Hampshire’s climate could end up resembling Virginia’s.

Although Virginia has some skiing, she said, “It’s not as awesome as we have in New Hampshire.”

Sarah J. Nelson, director of research at the Appalachian Mountain Club, said her organization not only wants the public to accept the science behind climate change, but to contribute to the growing body of data being assembled by citizen scientists.

A telephone app called iNaturalist enables users to document what plants and animals they are seeing, which help scientists tracking weather trends. A sub-app calls users’ attention to species in the alpine zone of the White Mountains.

Muddy boots are a clear indicator of changing winters and earlier springs, Nelson said. A 100-year study she and Burakowski worked on found the number of mud days –- those with no snow on the ground and temperatures above freezing –- increased across the region by up to three weeks over that period.

In New Hampshire, mud days and the conditions that cause them also impact maple-sugaring and forest-harvesting, Nelson said.

Jessyca Keeler, president of Ski New Hampshire, said ski areas are doing their part to respond to climate change –- switching to LED lighting, installing electric vehicle chargers, using bio-degradable cups and food containers, adopting no-idling policies for vehicles and going paperless. They realize there’s a limit to using snow-making to compensate for warming weather patterns, Keeler said.

”We do know that at some point there is a temperature and a humidity level at which we can’t make snow,” she said.

But the biggest contributor to the ski areas’ carbon footprint, Keeler said, is transportation.

“ Everyone’s driving their own cars and most of them are gas vehicles and New Hampshire doesn’t have a good policy yet of implementing EV infrastructure,” Keeler said. “In a map of the Northeast, New Hampshire is the big doughnut hole.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2021