California’s Mount Shasta, one of the tallest peaks in the continental US, has a giant bald spot.
The summit of the mountain, a dormant volcano rising some 14,179 feet above sea level, is typically covered with snow year-round.
But satellite analysis comparing snow cover at Shasta’s peak this July and August to previous summers paints a dismal picture—with sparse areas of white.
Record high temperatures and devastating droughts have left the peak nearly snowless earlier in the year, experts say, accelerating the melting of its already imperiled glaciers.
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Record heawaves and drought have left California’s Mount Shasts nearly snowless. This August 24 post from Mount Shasta Ski Park shows the iconic summit seemingly devoid of almost all powder.
Shasta’s glaciers are ‘losing a lot more volume because you stripped your snow off by mid-July,’ glaciologist Mauri Pelto, director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project, told The Washington Post.
When Mount Shasta has gone bare in the past, it’s been in late summer or even into the fall.
‘Imagine how fast it was melting for two months instead of maybe a few days at the end of September,’ Pelto said.
In the town of Shasta, California—some five miles southwest of the mountain and 3,500 feet above sea level—the thermometer hit 103 degrees twice this summer.
Satellite imagery from June 16 and 28 and July 18 illustrating the progressive loss of snowcover on Mt. Shasta’s Whitney Glacier, the largest in California
A photo of Mount Shasta from August 1973 shows it thoroughly carpeted in snow. There’s about one square mile of glacier ice left on Mount Shasta today, less than half of what was there in the early 1980s
Even halfway up the mountain, temperatures reached between 77 to 84 degrees at the end of June, leading to the rapid melt of Whitney Glacier, the largest in California.
Whitney Glacier has retreated about a half-mile—nearly one-quarter of its total length—in the past 16 years.
In 2021 alone, it’s lost 15 to 20 percent of its volume, the Post reported, and is splintering into two smaller glaciers.
There’s about one square mile of glacier ice left on Mount Shasta today, Pelto said, less than half of what was there in the early ’80s.
‘The loss is accelerating and 2021 will be the single biggest volume loss year,’ he told the Post.
On Twitter, Pelto said the fragmenting of Shasta’s glaciers due to the exceptional melting ‘is not an easily or likely reversible.’
A map indicating the glaciers on Mount Shasta are fragmenting due to the exceptional melting, a situation Pelto says ‘is not an easily or likely reversible’
Geologist Nick Caselli, operations director for Shasta Mountain Guides, told Mt. Shasta News in August that the ‘spectacular loss of snowpack’ has left the mountain’s west side bare.
In high elevations, snowpack is accumulation on the ground that remains until the arrival of warmer weather.
It contributes mass to glaciers and, when snowpack melts it feeds streams and rivers and provides drinking water for numerous communities.
Because of the glaciers’ retreat, he added, there are places where there is a ‘striking difference when you are up there.’
The uppermost portion of a ridge that goes out of the Hotlum and Bolam glaciers used to be ‘all snow when you got above, say, 11,200 feet,’ Caselli told the News. ‘You were on snow 100% of the time.’
Now the bare ground has started emerging out of the snow and ice ‘and now seems to be a permanent feature,’ he said. ‘There is even a little trail up it.’
The Hotlum Glacier has reportedly also broken into smaller fragments.
Ryan Sandler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, says there have been other periods when Shasta has had little to no snow—including during the height of the 2014 California drought.
Sandler told the San Francisco Gate he’d also see a 1992 photo showing almost no snow on the mountain, but that was from October of that year.
California relies on just a few severe winter storms to account for its snowpack and rainfall, he said, and in recent years the Golden State has seen warmer temperatures and fewer big storms, ‘which would make it more common to see a lack of snow on Mount Shasta by summertime.’
‘What’s happening on Mount Shasta is a visual representation of the drought,’ Sandler told the outlet. ‘We’re in extreme to exceptional drought in the area.’
On August 24, Mount Shasta Ski Park posted a picture on Facebook of the iconic summit seemingly devoid of almost all snow.
‘In the past, Mt. Shasta has snow on the summit year-round. This summer is different,’ read the post, which indicated a small white patch in the photo ‘is glacial ice, not snow.’
According to the Park’s post, Mount Shasta got half of its typical snowpack last winter.
As a result Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in the state, is at 25 percent cahpacity and dropping by as much as half a foot per day.
‘The snow stuck around later in the trees, where it is protected from sun and wind,’ the post continued. ‘The snow that fell on the mountain was not protected from the wind and the sun [and] was blown right off the mountain. Then as summer came around, there wasn’t much snow, and the sun/heat took care of the rest.’
Glaciers visible from the mountain’s north side are melting ‘very quickly,’ the post continued, causing mudflows known as lahars, that can wash out roads and bridges.
‘The effects of climate change are visible,’ the park concluded. Our hearts are with our neighbors who are currently affected by the mudflows and fires.’