Snow

We Must Act Now to Protect Our Winters

2014 was the hottest year on record, and each of the last three decades has been hotter than the last.

In mountain towns that depend on winter tourism, the realities of climate change really hit home. Shorter, warmer winters mean a shorter season to enjoy the winter sports we love—and a financial hit for local economies that depend on winter sports.

Even if you hate winter, climate change affects you – because climate risks are economic risks. Skiing, snowboarding and other types of winter recreation add $67 billion to the economy every year, and they support 900,000 jobs.

Last week I went to the X-Games in Colorado to meet with some of our country’s top pro snowboarders and the businesses that support them to hear how they are taking action on climate.

Administrator McCarthy speaking to students

I spent the day with Olympic Silver Medalist and five-time X-Games Medalist pro-snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. Our first stop was the local middle school in Aspen. These students grow up watching pro athletes like Gretchen, and many ski and snowboard themselves. We talked about changes the students can make in their everyday lives to help the environment and how they are the next generation of great minds that will develop solutions for addressing climate change.

Administrator McCarthy and snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler standing in front of a snow halfpipe.

Then we headed down to the X-Games venue to watch the halfpipe competitors practice. Without good, consistent winters, it’s tough for athletes to train and compete. Gretchen, who’s local to Aspen, told me they’re seeing more winter rain here in January, and athletes are increasingly wondering if there’s going to be enough snow for some of their biggest competitions.

Administrator McCarthy and athletes standing in front of ski slope.

The great thing about the athletes I met is that they know they’ve got a lot of stake, so they’re doing something about it. After halfpipe practice, Gretchen and I met with this year’s X-Game competitors. This bunch is committed to their sport, and they’re working with Protect Our Winters to ensure it’s around for generations to come. (That’s Maddy Schaffrick, Jake Black, me, Giom Morisset, Gretchen and Jordie Karlinski above.)

Admininstrator McCarthy and others sitting at round table discussion.

There are a lot of small businesses in Aspen that can’t survive without tourists coming into town, and I sat down for a chat with them in the afternoon. If we fail to act, Aspen’s climate could be a lot like that of Amarillo, TX, by 2100. Amarillo is a great town, but it’s a lousy place to ski.

Administrator McCarthy looking at mountain.

Unfortunately, the past few warmer winters mean the snowpack in Aspen is getting smaller. I joined Auden Schendler of Aspen Snowmass, one of the local ski resorts, to see how this year’s snow compares to previous years.

Administrator McCarthy listening to Alex Deibold speak to reporters.

Alex Deibold, 2014 Olympic Bronze Medalist in snowboard cross, joined us to talk with local reporters about how climate change could impact mountain towns like Aspen if we don’t act now. He’s traveling farther to find snow where he can practice, and that’s why he’s speaking out.

Administrator McCarthy and athletes holding a "Protect Your Local Powder" sign.

These athletes and I have come to the same conclusion: We all have a responsibility to act on climate now. It’s critical to protect public health, the economy and the recreation and ways of life we love.

This week we’re focusing on how we can reduce the environmental impact of our favorite sports all year long. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our website to learn about the progress that major athletes, teams and venues are making, and what you can do as a fan to act on climate.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Making Powder on My Town’s Big Hill

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

My town has a ski hill, the best darn ski hill in America. A rope tow drags people up the 175 vertical feet for $5 a day.

Of course, when the winter is warm, or dry, we can’t ski. Some years we are open only two days and some years we are open most of the winter, which for us means 12 hours a week on Wednesday and Friday nights and weekend days.

Powderhouse Hill, as this town-owned resort is called, made snow a few times this year. We borrowed equipment from a Big Hill up north. Some hill volunteers reason that if we made snow just a few times we could stay open more days and make better use of this local treasure. Other volunteers think making snow on Powderhouse Hill is like trying to turn your kids’ splash pool into a Hawaiian beach, and we should let the little hill be.

While Powderhouse Hill, with its volunteer staff and town owned land, can afford to debate the question, the big ski resorts (everyone but us) all depend on snow making.

According to one manufacturer of snow makers, it takes about 75,000 gallons of water to cover an acre with six inches of snow. As far as the environmental damage, most resorts pump from reservoirs at low ground and the runoff from the slopes goes right back into these reservoirs, which is basically the story at our little hill. Although the water goes back to nature, it still gets moved around in a way that may not be good for plant and animal life.

But according to BioOne Research, the bigger environmental and financial cost is the energy it takes to pump the water. Energy is second to labor in the cost of operating a ski resorts, the organization says.

Although the equation is different at Powderhouse, we join other resorts in trying to balance costs and benefits. If we make snow one cold day and the next two days are balmy, the power and effort may be wasted.

Under a variety of climate change scenarios, the average ski season will be reduced by 37 to 57 percent by 2050, BioOne says. Taking into account current snow making technology, the season should only be reduced by 7 to 32 percent.

Last year, Powderhouse Hill was open only a couple of days, I think. This year, the rope tow was spinning more weeks than not. For us, that was a very good year.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Snow Slushies in Spring

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Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

It was the first day of spring and northern New England was looking just plain gorgeous. Not gorgeous like tiny lilac crocus bulbs emerging. Not gorgeous like sun beating down on my patio while I drink coffee.

Rather, gorgeous like Santa in the North Pole, gorgeous like Disney’s winter wonderland. In my Maine yard, soft white snow laces every branch, covers all the pavement and hides any dirt kicked up by car traffic last week. Icicles hang off eaves, while smoke wafts up from woodstoves warming children thrilled to have another snow day home.

OK, it sounds more like heaven in December than in April. But we New Englanders have learned to take what we can get. And make the best of it. So we make snowmen, take walks, get exercise by shoveling and do charity by shoveling for neighbors. We also celebrate with snow slushies. Yes, slushies made with the fallen-from-the-sky white stuff.

Turns out, though, we have to be careful if we are going to make these natural slushies. We all know – even southerners must know – that if the snow is yellow, it has been polluted by animals (likely my dog or his best friend neighbor dog). And black or brown snow most likely comes from cars and people kicking up dirt.

But what about pink snow? Apparently, snow can collect bacteria, which turns the white stuff pink. Snow can also become contaminated by pollution as it falls to the ground. Snow is fairly efficient at collecting pollution as it falls, according to Dr. Helen Suh, environmental studies professor at Northeastern University.

Once formed, the crystals that are snow can stay in the air for hours collecting pollutants before they fall to the ground. This means airborne pollution can be hidden in even newly fallen snow. Meaning that metals, acidic pollutants, and persistent organic pollutants can all be in our slushies.

Lucky for me and my kids, the amount of pollution is related to the amount of pollution in your neighborhood air, which generally is related to traffic. Although my street is sometimes a bypass for people avoiding traffic in the village, we often go minutes at a time without seeing a car.

Even in cities, Suh said, studies have found freshly fallen snow has a low amount of pollution. Just stay away from that colored stuff. And if your kids don’t believe you about the colored stuff, Dr. Suh suggests you melt some snow in a container and see what you find.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The First Signs of Spring

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

There are always a lot of weather clichés: If March comes in like a lion, it will  go out like a lamb, etc.

I wonder if there is a rule to February. If it kicks off with a huge blizzard, and ends with soggy ground, well then I guess we’re just heading into New England’s Mud Season.  It may not be the prettiest time of year, but it is at least a sign that winter is losing its grip and spring will come.

Everyone remembers how mild last year was: we had crocuses blooming on February 26th.

Just a few weeks ago we had one of the bigger blizzards anyone around here can remember. But in the past few days, the temperature stayed (just slightly) above freezing, so we had buckets of rain, instead of feet of snow. Of course, with the ground still frozen, all that rain means a lot of standing water on the ground until it eventually filters into the soil. A soggy mess, or a sign of spring: your call.

It seems as if everybody up in New England pays special attention to the length of days during this time of year.  Even by late January, you start to notice that “Hey, a month ago it was dark at 4:30, and now it’s light half an hour longer.”  Meaning that by now, in early March, I see daylight through much of my commuter train ride home, until close to 6PM.

Right now, we’re only a few weeks away from changing the clocks for daylight savings time.  If only the temperature would catch up as quickly as the light!

The last few mornings I’ve also been cheered to hear the familiar “wheat wheat wheat” call of our resident cardinals, a familiar sound that I associate with the transition to spring. Of course the cardinals are a welcome presence at our backyard feeders all through the winter, but it’s only now that their activity changes and they start singing more.

All of this means that it is high time to dust off our seed catalogs and gardening books, and start planning what our early season vegetable garden will need, and what care will be needed for our other plants that are just now peeking out from under winter’s snowbanks.

About the author:  Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Don’t Forget Your Car!

By Lina Younes

Today we got the first snowfall this year. It was not a severe storm. In fact, near my home it was only about two inches, but it was enough for schools in our area to start two hours late. Since the snow was dry and powder-like, the process of clearing the entrance, driveway, and cars was not difficult at all.

Given the snow forecast last night, I thought I had taken the necessary steps to prepare for whatever nature would bring. I had the necessary supplies at home. Yesterday, I also decided to fill up my car with gas so I wouldn’t be stranded at home in the event of a severe snowfall. I had learned from my experience last summer when an unexpected storm left our area without power for several days and virtually no operating gas stations near our neighborhood. So, I thought I was totally ready this time, but not.  As soon as I started driving this morning to take my daughter to school, a light came on in the car:  “low washer fluid.”  Yikes!  Even though the sun was shining bright this morning, some of the melted snow and de-icing substances on the road were splattering on the vehicle, so filling up with windshield washer fluid was in order as soon as I dropped my daughter at school.

So, here are some tips as to what you should do to winterize your vehicle during this season in order to stay safe.

  • Check your air filter and fluid levels.
  • Check the tread wear on your tires and make sure they are properly inflated.
  • And, as I was reminded today, have plenty of windshield washer fluid!
  • Check the condition of your windshield wipers, too.

If you are on the road a lot or live in an area prone to snow and ice storms, consider having non-toxic de-icing substances such as clean clay cat litter or sand in your trunk, a shovel, a flashlight and a first aid kit for emergencies. I hope you don’t have to use them.

Do you have any emergency tips that you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Winter Without Snow

By Amy Miller

The lack of snow is a challenge for ski hills around New England, but it is a catastrophe for my backyard ski hill. When I trek five minutes up the hill behind my house I find myself magically at the top of a ski hill with a working ski lift. But there is no rental department, no ski school, and most importantly right now, no snow making. In fact, the hill gets groomed by a snowmobile attached to some rakes or something. When there is snow.

I live in the middle of a village in the part of Maine that real Mainers consider Massachusetts. But somehow, through the hard work a few very handy ski fanatics and the dedication of a few dozen local volunteers, our little town has its own little ski hill. Life tickets? $5 a pop. Beat that. When there is snow.

Powderhouse Hill trails flank an 800-foot rope tow that takes you to a 175-foot vertical elevation. At the top, you are rewarded with a view of bucolic New England. For adventurous young whippersnappers there is a glade run that sends you slaloming between the trees. When there is snow.

The hardest part is that good old fashioned rope tow. Parents with little kids drag them between their legs, and every one of us is challenged to find gloves that last the season. Even with free duct tape disbursed at the lodge, most gloves can’t withstand the friction. And by dark, even the strongest skiers complain about their arm muscles. When there is… ok, you get the picture.

True, skiing can be controversial among environmentalists. It involves clearing trees, creating snow out of precious water and producing energy to move people continuously back to where gravity can do its work. But Powderhouse does not make artificial snow and since it sits in the village, its a sensible use of open space.

As far as energy, the engine that powers the tow sits behind a 1938 rusted out pickup. A drive wheel off the truck’s back spins the rope, although the town bought a new four-cylinder engine years ago.

The slope has provided a friendly learning ground since the 1950s when the Hardy brothers built it on a willing landowner’s parcel. Since then, the town bought the 15-acre site and as the website says, “In these days of unknown weather, every day the hill operates is a good one.”

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the Public Affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Take Winter with a Grain of Salt

By Christina Catanese

It’s about that time of year when the Mid-Atlantic region starts preparing the snow plows and pulling out the road salt. In most of our region this winter, we’ve had a lot of warm days and no big “snowmageddons” so far, but the season is still young!

When big snow storms strike, how do you fight back? Methods like shoveling, snow plows, snow blowers, and applying sand and deicing salt keep roads clear and people safe. But did you ever think about the environmental impact of clearing snow and ice?

Although rock salt is an effective way to clear roads and driveways, issues can arise when the snow is gone and the salt is left behind. As the snow melts in the spring, the salt dissolves and runs off the road into storm drains and nearby water bodies. This can harm aquatic life like fish and plants. Human health can be impacted as well if the salt reaches drinking water supplies.

Many towns have moved from applying to salt to highways and are now applying brine, which has less environmental impact.  Check out this link to learn more about some innovations in snow removal, including a method being piloted by Maryland that sprays a mixture of sugar beets and brine onto highways.

So when the next big winter storm strikes, strike back, but in an environmentally friendly way. Here are some recommended actions to reduce salt application:

car-snow1. Use the Right Material: There are many options beyond salt and sand, like less toxic chemicals and even things like clean kitty litter.
2. Use the Right Amount: More isn’t necessarily better. Warmer roads need less salt, and roads below 10º F will not benefit from rock salt at all. Applying less salt is also a more economical choice. Snow clean-up costs are reduced, as are damages to cars, roads, and bridges.
3. Apply at the Right Place: Apply salt where it will do most good, like hills, curves, shaded sections of road, and bridges. Use discretion when applying salt near sensitive streams or in drinking water source water protection areas.
4. Apply at the Right Time: Don’t wait until snow is falling to get started. It takes more salt to melt accumulated snow than it does to prevent accumulation.
5. Use Proper Storage Techniques: Salt and sand piles should always be covered to prevent runoff, and should be located away from streams and wetlands.
Read more about best management practices for applying and storing road salt while protecting water supplies here.

Is your municipality practicing smart salt application with these actions? Are you practicing them at your home? Do you know of any other environmentally-friendly ways to clean up snow? Let us know how you’re staying both safe and green this winter season.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How Safe Is Your Snow Removal?

By Denise Owens

The snow was coming down so pretty and white and quickly my yard became covered. After snowing for hours, it was then time to clean up the pretty white stuff.

So I started shoveling my walkway to make it safer walking to and from the house. After shoveling for awhile, I decided there’s no way I could shovel my driveway. Although it wasn’t a foot of snow, it was just enough to make it difficult for me to drive in my driveway. So I decided to have my driveway cleared. I looked in the phonebook. Surprisingly, no, the Internet has not changed my old habit of using a phone book to find a company for snow removal.

I called several companies and unfortunately a lot of them were booked for the day. But I looked out of my window and noticed that one of my neighbors had a person come out and clear their driveway. So I walked over to ask if he could do the same for me. He agreed to come over to clear my driveway. He cleared my driveway with his truck and applied salt.

Later my neighbor came over and asked what was applied to our driveways. I guessed it was salt, and he asked whether I was sure, so I asked him why’d he ask that. He said it has a color to it, so I then went out to see, and it did have a color to it. It must have been some type of chemical. I had no way of finding out what was used because this guy that cleared my driveway was just going door to door. So my neighbor then said we must be careful what’s being used because we have animals and plus it ruins your driveway and the environment. So please make sure you know what’s being used when having your snow removed.

What do you use to remove your snow? Is it environmentally safe?

About the author: Denise Owens has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency for over 25 years.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Too Dependent on Electricity

Inspired by my friend and colleague’s blog post, Snowed Under in our Green House, I decided to focus this blog on the main event of the larger Washington metropolitan area this week—the massive snowstorms and blizzards. Due to the inclement weather, the area was virtually paralyzed for days. Many schools systems, businesses, and government agencies remain closed.

While we were snowed in at home, the power went off intermittently. One day we were without power for a span of 15 hours! During that long stretch without electricity, we had no heat and, of course, no functioning appliances. Our only lifeline to the outside world was a battery-operated radio. I must note that thanks to the green repairs we made to our home last year, the temperature in the house stayed relatively stable even without heat during that blackout. While it did cool down after 12 hours without power, it was nothing that an extra layer of clothing couldn’t handle.

While we were snowed in, I realized how dependent we have become on electricity for home entertainment. We take for granted the fact that we cannot use our television sets, computers, the Internet, electronic toys, rechargeable batteries, wireless technology without electricity. As a family we rediscovered some traditional forms of entertainment like board games to pass the time. My youngest even read several books on her own initiative. Not a bad lesson during the blizzard of 2010.

Nonetheless, I would like to leave you with some advice for future snow and ice storms. Try to have the necessary supplies well in advance so you don’t have to venture out unnecessarily during inclement weather. Use generators and other combustion appliances wisely. Stay safe.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green De-icing Techniques

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

If you live along the Eastern states, you probably have been digging out from the snow this week. I must confess that it was nice to play in the powder-like snow again. We hadn’t had a similar snowstorm in our area for years. I actually spent several hours sledding down the hill in our back yard with my youngest daughter. However, all outdoor winter pastimes are not created equal. One of the lesser enjoyable winter activities is dealing with the icy sidewalks and roadways. If you’re not careful, you can do more harm than good to the environment as well.

Although we should avoid a slippery sidewalk and entrance to our home, we shouldn’t be too hasty in rushing to the local convenience store to buy bags of salt and chemicals for de-icing. There are greener techniques to clearing these walkways.  For example, consider using clean clay kitty litter, sand, or fireplace/stove ash to de-ice your sidewalk. Chemical de-icers can be harmful to your pets, your plants, and the environment as a whole. Furthermore, these toxic chemicals that melt from your driveway and roads can pollute waterways. These de-icing road salts can adversely affect ground water used for public water supplies if not applied and stored correctly.

So, next time a winter storm is approaching, take a moment to review some winter preparedness safety tips to better protect your family and the environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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