The impacts of the record-breaking Pacific Northwest heat wave are still playing out across the region. Medical offices are still getting a handle on the loss of life, and firefighters are battling a number of massive wildfires across the region.
Now, satellite imagery makes clear another terrible impact: The region’s snow and ice took a massive hit. Hotter-than-normal temperatures on high accompanied blistering triple-digit heat in the valleys, and snowpack shriveled as a result. The European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite passed over the region before and after the heat wave. The imagery from the Olympic Peninsula to the iconic volcanoes like Mount Hood and Rainier shows the disappearing act of the ice and snow.
Reports earlier this week indicate Mount Rainier lost 30% of its snowpack in the heat wave alone. Even before then, the 100 or so inches (254 centimeters) of snow on the ground at the Paradise weather station was in trouble. The heat wave basically just turbocharged the decline.
“I don’t recall 100 inches of snowmelt, basically, 95 inches of snow occurring over a 21-day period,” Robert Hahn, an avalanche meteorologist for the Northwest Avalanche Center, told local station KOMO.
What that means for the region’s glaciers is an important question. The climate crisis has already put those glaciers on a path of decline. Later this month, researchers will conduct their 38th year of observations in the North Cascades to see how the ice fared from the heat wave. The imagery from not just that region but across the Northwest tells a dark story.