October 18, 2020

What Will Northwest Weather and Climate Be Like in 2050?

The future of Northwest climate is frequently discussed and debated these days.

Knowing the future climate is very important, because we can take steps to adapt to climate change, saving lives and property. And the threat of unpleasant consequences can motivate society to take steps to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere and increase carbon storage in the ground.

A number of politicians have made climate change a centerpiece of their political platforms, and a range of natural disasters (such as wildfires, drought, and storms) have been blamed on increasing CO2 and other greenhouse gases. A free-for-all of name calling has followed this topic with terms such as "denier", "alarmist", and "warmest" representing just a few.

A Time Machine

Climate change has become such an issue of contention, that activist groups have pushed to remove radio commentators that don't follow their line (e.g., Seattle350 pushing KNKX to remove a certain meteorologist).  It has become an issue of almost religious intensity to some with "right thinking" on the topic becoming an important way to demonstrate that one is a true "progressive."

So let's  clear the air a bit now.  I will show you the gold standard of projections of what will occur here in the Northwest over the next three decades due to increasing greenhouse gases.   

It is a time scale that is short enough that I believe we can have great insights into what weather/climate conditions in the Northwest will be like if CO2 continues to rise.

Each of you can consider the projections and make your own judgement whether it is an "existential" threat, a serious threat, an inconvenience, or an improvement over our current climate.  You decide.

The Gold Standard of Regional Climate Projections

My group (particularly Richard Steed and Jeff Baars) in concert with Professor Eric Salathe of UW Bothell has been working on the most advanced regional climate projection capability of the region.

Specifically, we have run an ensemble of TWELVE high-resolution regional climate simulations (12-km grid spacing) for 130 years (1970-2100).  

Each of these simulations was driven by a different global climate model.  Such global models have such coarse resolution that they make profound errors with our local terrain.  Thus, we applied a proven high-resolution weather forecasting model (WRF) to properly simulation regional weather effects, running it for 130 years. 

Global climate model (left) versus our high-resolution regional model (right).

In our simulations, we have assumed the worst case scenario for increasing greenhouse gases (known as RCP 8.5), which assumes increasing use of coal and fossil fuels.  CO2 rising rapidly. 

Reality will probably be more benign, as increased renewables come online, the use of coal declines, and hopefully there will be a revolution in the use of nuclear energy (both safe fission and fusion).  And with increased energy sources, sequestration of CO2 (removing it from the atmosphere) become more viable.

Our work demanded enormous computer resources, with much of it supplied by a grant from the Amazon Catalyst Program.  The Amazon folks also helped support some of the researchers that completed and analyzed the output, and guided us in our use of cloud computing.  So a big thanks to Amazon.

What I am about to show you is unique:  no other regional climate prediction effort provides such a high resolution view of the future climate of the Northwest or offers information about the uncertainties in the projections.


There is a lot of talk about climate change bringing drought to the region, so let's see what state-of-science models suggest. 

I will start by show you the change in annual precipitation over the region between 1970-2000 (think 1985) and 2030-2060 (think 2045).  This graphics shows changes in the averages of all twelve forecasts.  The average of an ensemble of many forecasts is generally more skillful than the individual predictions.

For most of the region, annual precipitation will increase by1-4 inches, with some decreases on the lee (downwind) side of some major terrain barriers.  In general, MORE water for our region each year.  Good news.

What about during the summer? 

For about 2/3rds of the region, amounts will decline, but most of the declines will be small (0 to .5 inches).  The biggest declines (up to roughly 1 inch) will be on the western side of the Cascades and the western slopes of Vancouver Is.   Interestingly some of the region, particularly east of the Cascade crest, will see small increases, with largest increases over the northern Rockies.

 Bottom line:  no major precipitation declines over the arid eastern side of Oregon and Washington.

What about Seattle? What can you expect for precipitation and how good are our simulations?  Good question.

The key precipitation period is midwinter...and below is a plot of all ensemble members, the average of all of them (green line) and observed values (black dot) for 1970-2100.

A very small upward trend in winter precipitation through 2050.  You won't notice it.  Also note that there has not been much trend in the observations either.

What about summer (June to August) in Seattle?   The forecast is below.  

A very slight downward trend.   Summer has always been dry around Puget Sound (typically 2-3 inches in total) and perhaps we will lose as much as .5 inches from global warming by 2050.  

How about Omak in the fire-prone mountainous area of northeast Washington? As shown in the projections below, it is a dry place with little trend.

The bottom line of these forecasts is that the precipitation changes through 2050 over our region will be modest, even if greenhouse gases increase rapidly over the next several decades.  


Increasing greenhouse gases WILL have a significant impact on our regional temperatures, but how much?  Let's check out maximum temperatures.

Annual average maximum temperatures by 2030-2060 (think 2045) will increase by 1-2 C (2-4F) west of the Cascade crest and 2-3 C (4-5F)  to the east.

What about the summer, where we worry about heat waves and wildfires?  

Clearly larger increases in temperature (see below).  Along the coast, pretty much the same as for winter-- 2C or less increase in temperate.  The ocean temperatures do not warm up as rapidly as the land, so relief from heat will remain available from Forks to Astoria to Lincoln City along the coast.

Summer temperatures in Puget Sound will notch up by about 2.5- 3 C (4-5F).   So a typical summer high in Seattle would increase from approximately 76F to around 80F.
East of the Cascade crest, summer high temperatures will increase 3-3.5C (5-6F), so the typical summer high in say Richland, WA will rise from 88F to 93.5F.  Enough to be noticeable.

Below is a plot of how the daily average winter (Dec-Feb)  temperature (C) will change at SeaTac through 2050. Again, the green line is the average of the ensemble of regional climate forecasts.  A slow increase over time by about 2 C.

The summer temperatures also increase steadily, by about 3 C.   Note in 2020 we have already experienced about half of the greenhouse warming that is expected by 2050.

By the way, do you notice that the high-resolution model is too cold in winter and too warm in summer at SeaTac?  This error is probably due to the lack of resolution even of the regional climate simulations, with an inability to define the relatively narrow Puget Sound west of SeaTac.

Omak mean temperatures in winter and summer?  A gradual increase, with summer temperatures going up 2-4C over the period (and we are again about halfway there at this point).

Omak Winter

Omak Summer

Bottom Line:  Assuming a worst-case scenario of increased greenhouse gases, the region will warm, with greatest increases east of the Cascade crest.    Winter warming (from approximately 1985 to 2045) will be approximately 3F in the west and 5 F in the east.  Summer warming will be roughly 4F in the west and 4-5F in the cast.  Warming will be gradual and progressive.


With only a modest rise in precipitation but warming temperatures, one should expect a decline in snowpack--and that is exactly what the regional simulations are showing.

Here is the change in April 1 snowpack (snow water equivalent in mm), a critical measure of melt water availability for the summer, between roughly 1985 and 2045.  Notable declines  (darker brown colors) over the western slopes of the Cascades and the Olympics.  Some increases in eastern WA (from the increases in precipitation).

To get a more intuitive idea of the April 1 snowpack change below are the ensemble forecasts and ensemble mean (green line) at Stevens Pass.  You will note a lot of variability in the forecasts and observations--snow amounts vary a lot from year to year for a variety of reasons (including natural variability such as El Nino/La Nina).  Over the entire period through 2050, the snowpack declines from roughly 1000 mm (1 meter) to around 750 mm:  a 25% decline.

It is not clear whether there has much decline so far in the observed snowpack (black dots).
Declines in projected snowpack are less at higher locations, and greater at lower ones, such as Snoqualmie Pass.     Skiing at Snoqualmie is often marginal today and I would not buy a season pass there after 2030.   I suspect skiing will be history at Snoqualmie by 2050.

Wind Speed
    The regional climate simulations do NOT suggest much change in average daily maximum wind speed (see below) between 1985 and 2045.  The same is true of annual maximum gusts or the strength of approaching Pacific windstorms.

I can provide a thousand more graphics, but you get the general idea.  

If the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases continue on their present pace, there will be changes in our regional climate.  In fact, some of the changes have already started.  So by 2050:
  • Annual precipitation will increase slightly for most of the region.
  • Temperatures will warm by roughly 3-5F.
  • Winds and windstorms will experience little change.
  • Snowpack will decline dramatically (roughly 25%) by 2050.
Importantly, the model projections do not suggest  any "tipping points" nor abrupt changes in our weather/climate as a result of increasing greenhouse gases.

To say something that will get me in trouble with the climate activists folks, there is no existential threat to our region through the middle of the century.  We will be able to adapt to the modest changes that are expected, although some will be worrisome (loss of skiing at Snoqualmie Pass).

Not optimal snow conditions

I believe the above is the best available estimate for what unrestrained global warming will bring to our region through mid-century, and I ask that the activist folks and over-the-top "journalists" in some local media outlets restrain their name calling and twitter rage when such information is communicated.   My erstwhile radio station, KNKX, surrendered to the climate activists--hopefully, as the political rancor of this season ends, rational discussion and good science will again be appreciated.

Stream my podcast from your favorite services:

My blog on KNKX and the Undermining of American Freedom is found hereAn extraordinary story about Matt Martinez, Director of Content of KNKX, is found here.


  1. Thanks Cliff; I found this to be very informative.
    One factor you did not discuss which may affect many of us around Puget Sound is sea level rise. I realize that you did not model this but any comparable info regarding local sea level rise through 2050 that you could point to would also be helpful.
    Thanks again.

  2. High Cliff, I enjoy your blog. Did you by any chance look at diurnal temperature trends in your models? NOAA currently show them diverging since 2015. They also diverged between 2000 and 2014. No one has been able to explain why yet and I am curious as to if you have any insight. Thanks

  3. What will these changes mean for the plants and animals in the region? Will this cause our conifer forests to become unhealthy? Will insects increase? How about the other animals in the region? Will this cause changes in bird populations? Just because 4 degree warmer summers aren't going to be too big of an inconvenience for humans who are adaptable to almost all climates on Earth doesn't mean it won't be having major impacts on the wildlife and plantlife in the area... Washington might not look like the Washington we know anymore if this much warming is coming this fast. Certainly not by the end of the century. It makes me sad :(

    1. The real impact will occur from this region becoming even more desirable a place to live. Flora and Fauna are going to fall prey to development much more readily than the more nuanced approach climate change will make. Some regions of the country will become downright intolerable all while the population of Humans continues riding the current exponentiation curve.

      The Urban Heat Island effect might actual throw a wrench into those models, especially if they are based on today's level of urban development and not on what might happen if the population of the region doubles or triples. Development may spread into the most rural areas of the region as well, thanks to Covid and the increase of people working at home where ever they may choose. What used to be forest may become sprawl in areas where it would otherwise not make sense to build.

      Granted, more desirable can also translate into even more expensive so that could reign in development some. Climate change will sort socioeconomic divides even more as the less fortunate end up baking away in central and southern regions. Areas which are already becoming bastions for those fleeing the high cost of living on the coasts. Texas will probably be a challenging place to live with who knows what quality of life.

    2. Don't be so sure, with increased temps, sig. reduced snow pack, forest insect and disease, introduction of fire danger to new areas on western slopes of cascades it might not be so desirable as we think. 2-4 degrees is a huge change.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. There is no way the soils are drier in the spring than you're used to. This is one of the problems with making judgments based on anecdotes. As has been noted, the amount of rain is, if anything, slightly increasing, and it has already historically been normal for western Washington soils to be saturated for much of the spring.

      There certainly is no shortage of alder saplings across western Washington. My neighbor's loosely tended property is covered with them. Keep in mind, alders do not spread their seeds very far, so you're only going to find alder saplings near existing alders.

  5. I'm 63 years old and spend most all my time outdoors, I've noticed (because i dig holes in the ground with excavators) the soils are much drier then they used to be even in the spring after winter rains. where I live in the Olympia (steamboat island area) young alder trees are now none existent. the only saplings I ever see anymore see are in areas where I irrigate and older one are really sick lately..they used to grow like weeds around here but those days are long gone. they will be long gone around here in a few decades i believe.

  6. Cliff
    Insightful as usual. Previous communications you and I have had suggest that your confidence in predictive climate models may be rather low. Is this still the case? It appears that observed historic values often differ substantially from the model(s) predictions. Am I missing some statistical analysis that would suggest otherwise? Thanks for all your time and effort on this topic.

  7. Is the declining snowpack expected to have a serious impact on river ecology in the region?

    1. Great info!...as an older person, I feel comfortable with the trends predicted....of those, the receding snowpack will be the most impactful, as we already have had a few years where water conservation has been called for...all of this will happen very gradually, just like Life happens!..I have confidence that we will indeed reduce emissions, through technology, as time goes by.

    2. Yes. I worked on a climate impacts on salmon and rivers white paper that reviewed the state of the knowledge: https://www.govlink.org/watersheds/7/pdf/SnohomishClimatePaper/ClimatePaper2017.pdf

      Think about snow pack in terms of when precipitation is delivered to the river. Snow pack is stored water that melts in the spring/early summer. The impact on the river depends on what kind of geography exists in the watershed. Is it high and mountainous, or low elevation? Is it between?

      Declining snowpack decreases summer flows dramatically in snow and rain/snow dominated systems. Projections suggest there will be more precipitation, especially in winter. That precipitation will be flowing through rivers in winter, instead of being stored in the snow pack, so decreased summer flows are associated with increased winter flows and flooding.

      We expect decreased summer low flows and increased winter high flows. Both are bad for salmon.

    3. The key issue for Orca is not climate change. Sea lions eating salmon, pollution (both chemical and sound) are much bigger issues. The salmon runs were severely hurt by the dams....I am sure you know this. And salmon runs have been improving as you know...not declining..

    4. @cliffmass its not "entirely" correct to say that climate change is not an issue for the Southern Residents. You're correct that pollution and salmon run destruction overall is the issue. However, I have a good friend with a PHD in fisheries research, and he has shown me data that decreased glacier ice runoff, along with a marked acceleration of spring snowpack melt due to modest warming, is changing stream temperatures and chemistry. He's shown me data that warmer cascade spring/river waters also negatively impact salmon spawning, which is yet another part of the salmon decline puzzle.

  8. To me, the projected loss of snowpack and its likely impact on things that make our region special, like skiing, salmon and glaciers is tragic If not existential, Since this won’t be the same place when I retire, I’m likely to shed generations of PNW roots and move to Montana. C’est la vie en siecle 21.

  9. Hard to debate science but they will find crack here and there to probe.
    Your simulation outcomes are based on the "assumed the worst case scenario for increasing greenhouse gases (known as RCP 8.5), which assumes increasing use of coal and fossil fuels". We must take into consideration future advancements in technology.
    Elon Musk is a great example. The best is California's goal of prohibiting gas powered vehicles by 2035. Other states will follow. The coal industry is near the end. The 35 year old Saudia prince is already preparing his country for when oil depletion is due to less demand.

  10. Interesting. I'd like to hear more on your opinion on what measures we can take that might actually have a positive impact on global warming and what kind of lag effect (how soon we'd see positive results from our actions). And what is the current lag effect from our past actions? From my understanding, our global warming fate is largely at the hands of the oceans given they have held onto about 90% of CO2 (natural and man-made). Electric vehicles and solar panels still have a carbon footprint. What about carbon capture technology you're aware of?

  11. Thanks Cliff, an interesting in depth analysis that should be done for every state. I think your conclusions are misleading in several ways.
    1) Time does not end at 2045, so the summer heat gain and rain declines you describe become the new normal, and intenstification of those warming and drying trajectories continues. By the time my kids are my age those effects could be double what you described.
    2) You don't describe compound effects such as higher temperature x less precipitaion greaters much great evapotranspiration vs precipitation deficit, thus much greater need for irrgation.
    3) While the low single digit temperature rises may seem innocuous, many crops are near their thermal optimum already. Even a few degrees increase leads to declining yields if the same varieites of the same crops are grown. Of course agriculture can and will adapt by shifting to more heat tolerant crop varieties, practices, or change to entirely new cropping system. So food crops will continue to be produced in WA. But not without significant adaptation costs.
    4) Your models showed incremental change... through 2045 (2030-2060). It is not until after 2050 and global average temperature rise >2C that the risks or abrupt climate change effects on climate and weather patterns becomes a significant concern. Your analysis ignores that. And were the models used even capable of representing non-linear chaotic system change?
    5) I think your analysis holds water. Similar trends are expected for my corner of the CONUS in Maine. But in addition overlooking the increased dangers past 2050, and the expectation that the rate of climate change will not only continue but increase, the analysis shown also ignores the fact that our world in increasingly interconnected. Look the temperature and precipitation expectations for the SW and southern tier U.S. The economic impacts there will be huge even by 2045, and our tax dollars and national well being will be stressed accordingly.
    Despite your recognzied expertise in numerical weather forecasting, it is articles like this one that make you appear to be an apologist for lack of science-based comprehensive national and international action to reduce and reverse climate change as an economic, national security, ecological, and social necessity. Telling millions of people in the Mekong Delta, Bangeladesh, southeastern China, Mexico, southern Europe etc. etc. that climate change does not really matter because conditions at your house in Seattle will not be intolerable by 2045 misses the point. Glen Koehler

    1. Thank you Glen, this is my thought every time I read one of Cliff's climate change posts, but you have more knowledge to back it up. I just can't shake that he reads as an apologist for climate change deniers because our corner of the world happens to be A) one of the areas that won't be as greatly impacted, and B) is full of progressives who see climate change as an existential threat to humanity, so he tends to think we're unduly hysterical here in the PNW.

      Cliff's readings strike me not as inaccurate but as missing the forest for the trees. There's a whole lot of planet besides for the PNW to be concerned about, and the actions we take here in the PNW to curb our own emissions will impact the entire system, and, perhaps more importantly, set an example to other regions that aren't yet taking it as seriously as we are.

      How much we are personally inconvenienced here by the _weather_ in a climate change world is not really the issue.

    2. Glen and Patrick, what you're going on about are outside the scope of the post.

      Same goes for many others here. Cliff is a scientist focused on the PNW.

    3. I think it would help if we understood how what's happening to the rest of the planet also affects us here in the PNW. This affects what foods we have access too, mass human migration which can lead to war, political upheaval. This isnt to mention how much more of our mountains are going to be prone to fires with less snowpack and increased temperatures. 2-4F might not sound like a lot to someone on a random day, but this has huge affects on fire weather, and its a huge amount of energy introduced to the system on a whole. There will be negative impacts that will happen that we cannot foresee right now, and we should absolutely be prepared for worst case scenarios. Loss of Ski seasons is likely going to be small potatoes. We are also talking about huge damage to our Salmon runs, and then extinction of Orcas in the Puget Sound. There are likely to be hundreds of cause and effects such as this, again many that we cannot foresee.

    4. My point is Cliff arbitrarily sets the scope in such a way that it makes the problem of climate change seem like no big deal. It's a much bigger issue than the weather in the PNW in 2050. If you only focus on the day-to-day weather in one region of the country that is notably mild in the first place thanks to the influence of the Pacific Ocean, and stop your analysis at 2050, then sure you can make it seem like we shouldn't be overly concerned here in the PNW. But the reality is everybody on the planet should be equally concerned because it's going to impact everyone, even places where the weather itself shouldn't be hugely inconvenient. An existential threat to humanity is an existential threat to the PNW, right?

      I get that Cliff Mass is a meteorologist of the PNW so his expertise only extends as far as the weather patterns of the PNW. However, that being the case, I wish he would stop commenting on climate change as if he's an expert in climatology.

    5. Patrick....you are not correct. I have written dozens of papers on climate issues and have gotten a number of NSF and other grants on climate topics. I worked closely with Steve Schneider, one of the most well known climatologists. And I just don't work on NW weather....cliff

    6. Professor Mass very clearly states the scope of the article. It is ridiculous to criticize the article for not covering every aspect of climate change throughout the world. The research he has described is quite significant for the amount of detail it brings to the PNW forecast. As one person commented it would be valuable to conduct similar detailed models for all regions of the world. No doubt many areas will have more consequential climate changes than the PNW.

  12. How about a follow-up detailing what we Pacific Northwesterners can do? It's long been understood that the outcomes here may not be as severe as those impacts forecasted for other places, and one would hope we'd try to act with their benefit and well-eing in mind as well?

    1. We should use our technical prowess to help advance nuclear energy (fission and fusion) and carbon sequestration. Move to electric cars....

    2. Been driving electric for 10 years now. Wonderful vehicles. Glad you include that in the list of solutions.

    3. Actually we need to move (back) to walking. It worked fine for tens of thousands of years until the past 100+ or so.

      Electric vehicles have a huge amounts of embodied energy. Rare earth mining which is almost as bad as conflict diamonds, only diamonds are far more common than rare earth. Hence the prefix "rare". Massively polluting manufacturing processes which happen in poor nations no one cares about or Chinese enterprises they won't talk about is also a dirty little secret of EVs. Not to mention if the electricity is produced through dirty processes than all electric vehicles do is launder carbon. Just like money from ill gotten gains. Batteries don't last forever and they can't be economically rebuilt. Once your Tesla battery is done, its time for a new Tesla. Hopefully no one actually OWNS a Tesla. My preference would to only lease one. That battery pack IS the vehicle.

      If you want a solid carbon reducer, buy a used contemporary high fuel economy Hydrocarbon vehicle *gasp*. Blasphemy. Or a bicycle. Or a good pair of shoes and a bus pass.
      POVs are NOT going to be a solution for ANY legit carbon reduction based on current tech.
      It is akin to building more Single Family Homes even though it won't fix a housing affordability crisis or more highways with the premise of fixing traffic congestion. The ROI sucks for the typical person while only lining the pockets of those who don't have to deal with the consequences.

  13. Good read -

    However, I must differ on the Snoqualmie talk. Between snowmaking (particularly at higher elevations at Alpental), and the current brush cutting (which requires significantly less snow to open), I think Snoqualmie has a fighting chance.

    1. Tim... I hope so. But remember, warming temperatures will impact snow making as well. Better cut those bushes!

  14. Thank you Cliff. My forecast calls for a viable wine grape industry on the west side of the Cascades (think Pinot Noir).

  15. So since the change in Washington will be mild, we can just safely assume it'll be mild for the rest of the planet right? Definitely no need to worry at all then.

    1. Mike.... I would disagree with you. We need to worry about the whole world--some of which will have more profound changes and some less. That is why I strongly support safe fission and fusion and the use of sequestration once we get the energy. And as much renewables as is technologically possible...cliff

  16. I could be wrong, but reflecting other comments and a certain local meteorologist's previous analysis is that the more dramatic consequences for this region come near the end of the century. I don't have as much faith in a resurgence in safe fission and fusion reactors, though that is the best answer for the globe. Bill Gates and others will agree with me.

    1. You should have more faith in safe fission and fusion reactors, because the future is already here:


      If the environmental NGO's had not gotten in the way of budding nuclear technology decades ago, we would probably have had this kind of technology already up and running across the country. Much lower footprints, reusable waste capabilities, and operating systems that shut down quickly and safely in case of anything going awry. Better late than never, I guess.

  17. "To say something that will get me in trouble with the climate activists folks, there is no existential threat to our region through the middle of the century."

    Any "climate activist" who has made the modest effort to educate themselves by actually reviewing the IPCC reports, including the longer term analyses (beyond 2100) won't be upset, because they already know this, even without looking at the local forecasts. Also using RCP 8.5, which basically assumes we accelerate our fossil fuel use through the middle of this century, and continue until we've consumed even most of the hard to extract fossil fuels over a century later, the forecast range is quite alarming, but is not an existential concern.

    With that said, to hit the often-suggested target of 2 degrees C or less, we should be shooting for better than RCP 4.5, but based on global energy use forecasts, it appears to me we're running a little worse than that scenario. Doing better than RCP 4.5 will require the developed nations to continue their efforts to reduce fossil fuel use and stabilize land use impacts, and for the developed nations to level off their emissions growth sooner than expected.

  18. Thank you for the analysis Cliff. It is certainly good news to hear the impacts of Climate Change may not be "existential" by 2050. That said, my son will be only a whopping 37 years old at that time. How will unabated climate change affect the Pacific Northwest by the time he is 87? Or by the time his children's children are 87, that's what concerns me more. While I agree with you that talk of "existential" climate change might be overblown in the near term, there will be real costs that society needs to bear associated with rising temperatures, reduced snowpack, rising seas, habitat degradation and species loss ... the list goes on. It would be nice to include that as part of the discussion as well.

  19. Cliff, you've got a typo where you describe the Seattle precip graph...should read "through 2050, not 1950."

  20. Cliff, what do you think somebody who is under the age of 20 would say to this article? Some of those under-20 people want children of their own as well. I think this article is largely useless to that audience, and you should plainly state the glaring blind spot in this analysis (that it ends when people born today are only 25 years old).

    1. J. Sam...I have a different view. This blog post is about the period in which there is some confidence in the climate predictions. To put it another way, we are now committed to some warming...in fact, some has already occurred. The conditions I am describing will be those of the the young adulthoods of the those under 20 today. A key point is that there is no reason for desperation.

    2. Cliff, why does your confidence decrease after 2050? It is because of uncertainty of emissions? The problem with sticking to 2050 is that ALL scenarios result in similar warming until about mid century, according to the CIG SOW. After that they diverge significantly.

    3. Exactly.... the emission scenarios diverge after 2050, so the emission are uncertain. Furthermore, I believe it is highly probable that improving energy technologies will solve the energy problem by then...and we will also begin pulling CO2 OUT of the atmosphere. Fusion is going to work and fission is available today.

    4. Thanks for the response, Cliff. It's absolutely fair to discuss climate predictions in the timeframe you've chosen, due to increased variability beyond that. It is useful information. What I don't think is fair is to use that relatively narrow scope of data to make broad, subjective statements like "there is no reason for desperation". I would argue that same "desperation" is a not-insignificant driver of the advances in energy technology and CO2 sequestration you factor in to your optimistic outlook on climate change.

    5. One of my main criticisms of your blog is your rosey optimism that future technologies will save us from ourselves. As an older millenial, my experience thus far does not make me comfortable with those assumptions. Dont you think that strategy itself breeds the kind of complacency that prevents the strategy from coming to fruition? Doesnt that strategy require a significant infusion of political will that is neutered by your "dont get yourselves into a tizzy, there isnt an existential threat" argument?

    6. J.Sam, there are other resources you can turn to for information about the longer term forecast. Those longer term forecasts also do not provide any basis for desperation, although they do reinforce the need for action to minimize the harms.

    7. Colin... quite honestly I think optimism is called for. Safe fission is available now and fusion is much closer than many expect (I have looked into it). We can restore our forests. If folks would not hype the problem and follow the science and develop the necessary technologies, we will be fine. I am convinced of this..cliff

    8. Honestly, I’d like to know the drawbacks of “hyping the problem.” Mass hysteria? Over investment in adaptation technologies? I’ve been trying to think of a downside to getting really worked up about climate change, and I can’t come up with one. I’d love to I je why you’d like to keep it chill.

    9. Easy to answer your question. If you hype and exaggeration the threat, it undermines your ability to deal with the problem rationally. For example, it one hypes the climate impacts on wildfires, you neglect to do the critical work of restoring the forests. I could give you a dozen other examples of how hyping climate change undermines our ability to deal with the problem.

  21. @cliffmass once again you've done a great job summarizing the models. Much appreciated!

    And once again, I find it strange that the vast majority of your political scrutiny is directed towards the left? Do you truly think/feel the left of the isle is doing more "harm" than the right, when it comes to political action on environmental conservation? We are not dealing with the Republican Party of the Roosevelt era, we're dealing with an enormously powerful fossil fuel-funded political right wing.

    Here's a sociology study question:

    Is over-hype and exaggeration from left-leaning media more damaging to long term global CO2 emissions, than say, the extraordinarily wealthy fossil fuel funded special interest political right?

    Cliff, as a scientist myself, I agree with you: Overhyping is not helpful. And I also was FURIOUS at the left when they lobbied against I-732. That was PATHETIC on the part of the Sierra Club, et. al.

    However, your criticism is overwhelmingly directed to the political left. I understand that you were personally hurt by your firing at KNKX, but they DO NOT represent the vast majority of "activists". I know several top quality humans who spend their year split between the Greenland Ice Sheet and Antarctica conducting studies on albedo, ice cores, and ice sheet dynamics, and they are by no means "over exaggerating" their research findings.

    I find that your posts are excellent, while at the same time, I've rarely read any critical analysis from you about the damage the right-wing of this country is doing to environmental science, and frankly, science as a whole. Now we have millions of people who buy into this QANON crap and they all think that "scientists" are dark money child pedophiles. Its my personal "opinion" that you do need to publicly criticize these elements of our culture.

    In summary, I don't think your critical feedback for the political left should stop, or is incorrect. I generally think you're correct. However, based on much of your language, its difficult to find any Cliff Mass criticism for the right-wing degradation of public trust in science. It would seem to me that your very career is dependent on the public trusting scientists?

    1. Here in the NW the "right wing" is not in control, nor is the key media (e.g., Seattle Times) right wing. The problem of misinformation and poor public policy is on the left in our region. This blog is about our region.

  22. Will you be buying an epic pass or Leavenworth house for Stevens? "Declines in projected snowpack are less at higher locations, and greater at lower ones, such as Snoqualmie Pass."

  23. Excellent post Cliff. Thanks for taking the time to explain the methodology. I'm guessing we have one of least affected regions (regarding changes in climate), given our proximity to the relatively stable cool ocean.

  24. I think my first comment got lost... The PNW will probably get off easy. We'll have more fires, at least for a while until a new balance is achieved, with perhaps more pine beetles, hence less pine trees, and perhaps more deciduous trees or grassland (both here and in the Rockies). With our already marginal winter temperatures at pass levels for quality snow, skiing may disappear from the lower slopes, and glaciers will shrink, with a corresponding impact on some municipal water supplies. The increased sunshine which I perceive to be happening is appreciated by yours truly; yet I feel for California, which may see quite a change to their forest ecosystem. But my real concern is for low-lying areas: We'll probably lose some of the Everglades, and low-lying islands will suffer too. So will the Arctic, which is on track to see the biggest temperature change. And the ocean ecology will be impacted by lower pH, which will be hard on shellfish and corals until a new carbonate balance is established, which might take centuries. In short, any change stresses the system.

  25. Cliff,

    I don't always agree with you, but I respect your knowledge and understanding of the topic. If you could take a moment, I have some questions about the numbers above. Any more information would would be helpful for a lot of folks out there who are like me, concerned about the climate and interested in better understanding the numbers.

    1. 25% snowpack decrease - this seems beyond just a blip, and I would think that it would have substantial impact on river ecology. At lower levels, doesn't this run the risk of having some of our rivers and streams running at low flow, or no flow, and at higher temperatures as there's less snow melt to keep them cool. I've heard that warmer waters is detrimental to the salmon population. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    2. 3-5F degree increase in the average correct? That's average over the course of the year, right? So would that mean that we have our typical swing, but would have more days out of the year warmer than currently? Wouldn't that mean that we'd potentially have longer heat waves? Would that mean an increased risk in areas drying out and being prone to fire? I'd be interested in knowing your thoughts on this.

    3. Higher temps and lower snow pack - looking at both of these together, do we run the risk of higher river flows during the spring and a faster melt out over the summer? Additionally, are there any compounding risks that you're seeing as a mix of these changes?

    I recognize that the numbers for the temperature change are small on average, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the effects they might have. I recall reading studies on sea level rise and coastal flooding, where a costal flood for a 100 year flood was at 3', and a 10 year flood was 2'. A 1' rise in ocean level would mean that the 100 year flood would become as common as the 10 year flood, there would only be a 2' difference between normal (now +1') and the 100 year flood mark. Would you think that climate would have any similar issues?

    1. Justin...remember that our big floods around are from river flooding, not Puget Sound or Ocean flooding. And keep in mind that sea level is rising slowly, giving us time to adjust coastal infrastructure. And fortunately, our land rises quickly...not like Florida...cliff

    2. Cliff, any comments on the other questions? the sea level rise is a general comment not about Seattle but about coastal cities and the effect that 1' of rise has on the 100 year flood maps. I'd love to hear your comments on everything else, far more than the sea level rise item.

  26. Thank you, Cliff. We appreciate you! I'm also interested in predictions for Air Quality - do you have an intuition or any modeling about what will happen smoke-wise during our beautiful summers? The last decade has felt to me to have a sharply deteriorating change in air quality. Does that continue, or abate?

    1. Keep in mind that smoke is a natural aspect of NW summers. The suppression of fires was not natural. If you restore our forests, we can avoid the real catastrophic and mega smoke producing fires.

  27. Great presentation, but as RCP 8.5 is quite extreme and very unlikely, could you provide the predictions for the more realistic RCP 6, and 4.5 runs as well to provide us a better idea of what we will actually expect? Perhaps in a more condensed, tabular format considering the amount of effort necessary.

  28. Dr. Mass, thanks for the great post, but considering the RCP 8.5 is an extreme and unlikely possibility, would it be possible to run the 6.0 and 4.5 pathways to show what is probably more realistic, possible in a tabular format for easier comparison. Is not showing only an unlikely scenario a bit misguided;knowing the relative values would be much more practical.

    Thanks again!

  29. Is it possible to translate the decrease in snow pack to the percentage decrease in water available to municipal water systems in the Puget Sound region, assuming we don't change how we get water?

    1. Hi Nancy, I can speak a bit to municipal water supplies, since I've been following the trends of my local supply for a few years. Most of the major cities in Western Washington either rely on groundwater, which is extremely abundant due to our rainfall as long as they have enough wells, or on reservoirs that are sized based on lasting through the dry season with room to spare. Depending on the specific watershed, these reservoirs typically receive many times as much inflow as it takes to fill them.

      In Everett, for example, Spada Lake has a powerplant associated with it to generate electricity from their excess water. 5 times as much water is released through this powerplant just from December through March as Everett uses all year - before the snowpack even begins melting (this water is from rain and low elevation snow that melts in days or weeks).

      Unfortunately, this is one of the topics where there is sometimes deliberate misreporting. The Everett Herald actually has an article today discussing regional climate effects with Professor Nick Bond, also from UW. He made some comments about snow pack, and the Herald reported that as an indication Spada Lake might no longer receive enough water. I'm pretty sure that wasn't a statement of Dr. Bond, but one that the Herald made up using his comments about snowpack as a segue. It's wildly off base.

      Similar misinformation was presented during the 2015 drought. The water agency, I presume because they understandably wanted to maintain the lake elevation for improved powerplant performance, asked residents to conserve water. They added the warning that they had only about 6 months worth of water remaining. This was wildly misleading, since that time spanned the normal winter inflows. In reality, the unusually low reservoir level meant the normal beginning of excess water release through the powerplant was delayed a few weeks from mid-October to early November. The lake was full in December again, as usual, and they continued to utilize excess water in the powerplant through mid-May, and then intermittently to support electricity demand throughout the rest of the following summer.

      So don't worry too much about municipal water supplies around Puget Sound, and be wary of those who try to create alarm about them.

      This is a much bigger concern, on the other hand, for agricultural water supplies in Eastern Washington. Snowpack is very important for them, and the modelling Dr. Mass shared also showed some potential reductions in precipitation east of the mountains that would exacerbate the issue.

  30. Nancy...here in Puget Sound snowpack is not the dominant water source...we have enormous reservoirs. So as long as the winter precipitation is bountiful, we are in pretty good shape...cliff

    1. Yes, we Humans... are in pretty good shape. Salmon and orca, not so much.

    2. For some localities the snowpack is the reservoir. A few years ago we had a warm winter with normal precip, much as mountain rain instead of snow, the result was low snowpack, and necessary water rationing in the summer. Port Townsend is one example.

    3. That is true... such regions will need to store the winter water in other ways, such as additional reservoir capacity...cliff

  31. Thanks Cliff (and grad students, I assume) for putting in the time, and doing the hard work to give us this synopsis.

    You made a point to use the worst case scenario. My understanding is that this scenario more or less assumes everyone has a lot of children and they all get rich. It seems to me that predictions of population growth and per capita energy use are quite a bit trickier than the meteorology, difficult as that is.
    My father in law was a very intelligent guy who went from Nebraska farm boy to government researcher in Ag Engineering; a very wise man. I asked him what he thought about climate change. His response: "Things change."

  32. Interesting stuff. It won't be miserable for humans, but the declining snowpack might have serious ecological consequences. I'm looking forward to your analysis of RCP4.5. It seems more realistic. Even some Republicans are showing concern about the climate, although they're being drowned out by the President. Green technologies have improved. Second-generation biofuels are compatible with existing engines and don't compete with food crops, so it's now a matter of scaling up production. If the process of EXTRACTING natural gas can be cleaned up, we'll see even greater emissions reductions than we already have. An airplane produced today is much more efficient than one 30 years old. Cars too, obviously. I'm looking forward to nuclear power as well.

    I'm interested in a couple of things: The popular (and sarcastically named) blog scienceofdoom.com (it is NOT a denial blog, in fact it takes down many of the common skeptic arguments) has a lot to say about modeling, what models do well, and what they do poorly. But SOD's articles are quite long. Many people who don't understand/don't want to be concerned about climate change say they "don't know if they can trust computer models." Perhaps, in the future, you could make a post explaining what models do, what they DON'T do (a common trope is that excessive warming is "programmed in," etc) in a way that's understandable for the layman.

    Also, noteworthy...we are entering a new age of climate science. Satellites launched in the 80's and 90's are still gathering data. Back then, it was said that direct observation is important but it would be 20 years, if not more, before satellite observation could give us any meaningful trends. It's 2020, that time has come.

    I won't pretend that I've seen all the literature. In fact, I'm a complete amateur. But here is a link to a very recent editorial by Dr. Steven Dewitte, who specializes in observing and analyzing the Earth's radiation budget from space. He references multiple papers (including two he wrote recently with some colleagues) that show some interesting trends in Incoming Solar Radiation, Reflected Solar Radiation, and Outgoing Longwave Radiation. Dewitte compares these observations with models so they can be more skillful in the future. (Spoiler: the strong negative feedbacks predicted by guys like Lindzen haven't shown themselves...but thankfully we aren't seeing enormous runaway positive feedback either.)

    Well worth the read for someone who's interested.


    1. The US and Europe don't matter much. What counts is what China and India do.

    2. I understand your point. China, India, and the developing world are finally rising out of a miserable century of poverty. Who can blame them for wanting electric lights, indoor plumbing, personal vehicles and farm equipment? However, one could argue that if the most developed countries could move beyond fossil fuels it would SLOW the pace of warming, even if China and India continue to emit. This would give humans and ecosystems more time to adapt.

      I'm not advocating some sweeping regulatory policy. In fact, I'm very curious about the ideas of those quiet republicans behind the scenes who would like to take action regarding the climate. I'm a free-market kinda guy.

      Just to give an example: Carbon offsets. Many people buy them voluntarily when they fly, and airlines have noted that customers would be more likely to buy tickets if their flights had a lower carbon footprint. But, like any product you can buy, you get what you pay for. The $2-per-ton offsets go to reforestation projects in countries with poor legal oversight. Often, a landowner will collect the money for planting trees, wait a few years, and have a timber sale. This is egregious, and amounts to false advertising.

      The $10-per-ton offsets are different. These go to a wide variety of projects...methane capture is a popular one. I saw a great project that involved painting container ships with a special paint that slid more easily through the water, saving fuel. There was another for a clever, cost-effective solar heating program in Canada. There was adequate legal oversight to ensure that the person selling the credits was actually doing what they promised to do. The possibilities for creativity and innovation were much wider.

      Most climate plans proposed by American politicians have involved stringent, top-down approaches that essentially demand people adopt technology that isn't mature yet. Intermittent wind/solar power, ethanol fuels that detract from food supply and gunk up older engines, and other impractical measures.

      By comparison, a properly-overseen carbon credit market would allow individuals/industries who can't reduce emissions to fund those who can. Through innovation, the most cost-effective emission reduction measures rise to the top of the market.

      A free-marketeer will tell you that the role of government is to prevent scams and dishonesty, like the cheap carbon credits I mentioned above. The establishment of a proper certification process for carbon credits would be an excellent starting point for a small-government-climate-response. After that, the market can do what it does best.

      It's not perfect. If some future free-market politicans put forward these "market-based solutions," there will be opponents who say the measures don't go far enough. But, Once cleaner energy technologies are sufficiently affordable, China, India, and the developing world will import them willingly.

  33. Dr. Mass, thank you for the PNW focused blog that discusses issues and predictions relevant to us locally. When my interest is on issues and predictions relevant to other areas of the world, I look to SME's from those locations.

    Thank you for your ongoing efforts of not falling into the "sky is falling" mindset that more and more people seem to have taken on. While not a popular way of thinking these days, it is appreciated by this particular resident of planet Earth.

    Yes, climate change is happening.

    Yes, we can claim some responsibility for our situation.

    Yes, there are many things we can do to minimize our individual impact.

    Yes, there will be some adjustments for the entire human race to make to continue as the dominant species on this planet.

    No, the world is not coming to an end just yet. It truly will be game over in about 5 billion years when our sun consumes this little rock and long after our species has moved out into the cosmos.

    In the meantime, I choose to do my best, encourage others to theirs and look to clear thinking individuals like yourself for insight into PNW weather/climate information.

  34. The polls are now predicting that on November 3rd, Joe Biden will sweep Donald Trump from office in a massive landslide election. What will President Elect Biden do about climate change when he takes office in January, 2021?

    If human-driven climate change is in fact the urgent crisis climate activists say that it is, Joe Biden has no other choice morally or ethically but to immediately impose a program of strict carbon fuel rationing on the American people, doing so on the same day he enters the White House.

    Last month, I posted a plan on WUWT for reducing America's carbon emissions 80% by 2050. That target was former President Obama's original goal as he stated it in 2012.

    My plan is entitled the Supply Side Carbon Emission Control Plan (SSCECP). It uses a series of Executive Orders which combine existing provisions of the Clean Air Act with existing provisions of national security legislation to create an integrated regulatory approach for increasing the cost of all carbon fuels and for systematically restricting their future availability.


    The SSCECP uses the power of the federal government to create and enforce an artificial shortage of carbon fuels while directly raising their price and directly reducing their future import, production, distribution, and consumption.

    The plan employs EPA-administered carbon pollution fines as the functional equivalent of a legislated tax on carbon. This approach supplies a powerful incentive for the state governments to participate in directly regulating America's carbon emissions by assigning them the great bulk of the revenues produced from the EPA's carbon pollution fines.

    As a further measure, a joint interagency Carbon Fuels Control Board (CFCB) is established to manage a phased systematic reduction in the production and distribution of all carbon fuels.

    In addition, the plan keeps the import, production, and distribution of carbon fuels in private hands. Rather than nationalizing the oil and gas industry, the plan enlists private corporations as contracted agents in managing the government's energy rationing programs.

    The federal government also guarantees a steady and healthy rate return from the sale of all carbon fuels produced by those private corporations which choose to participate in managing these phased reductions.

    The SSCECP is completely legal and constitutional. As long as the plan is applied fairly and with equal force against all sources of America's GHG emissions, and with equal impact against all sectors of the economy, it will survive any lawsuits brought against it.

    In any case, the fact remains that if reducing carbon emissions is the main goal, not simply creating green energy jobs, then a plan very similar to the SSCECP -- one which uses the coercive power of the federal government to quickly reduce emissions -- is the only way to get from here to there within the short timeframe climate activists say is necessary.


    Full Disclosure: I post as 'Beta Blocker' on WUWT and on Judith Curry's blog. I've spent thirty-five years in nuclear construction and operations. I am 'Beta Blocker' because the bulk of my occupational exposure has come from beta-gamma sources of radiation.

  35. Cliff: Thank you for your excellent presentation of the medaling you and the stellar climatology research group have been focusing on the Pacific Northwest. While things will be really different here in 30 years, in your view the changes don't show an existential crisis. But ... we don't live independently here. We rely on resources from outside the region. What will be the effect on us if grain and produce harvests become more unstable? What will happen if heat in the south and southwest begin to pull people to our region in even greater numbers? It still may not add up to an existential crisis but I think these externalities need to be considered when pondering what life will look like here in 2050.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

More Rain for the Northwest is Good News for Wildfires

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