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Low Snowfall ‘Cost Winter Tourism $1bn in 10 Years’

The $12.2 billion winter tourism industry in the US experienced an estimated $1 billion loss and up to 27,000 fewer jobs from 1999 to 2010 because of diminished snowfall patterns, according to a study prepared for the Natural Resources Defense Council and nonprofit group Protect Our Winters.

The report, Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States, warns that tougher times could be in store for the industry unless climate change is stopped and reversed.

Warming temperatures — projected to increase 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century if climate change goes unchecked — mean snow depths in the west could decline by 25 to 100 percent, according to the study by University of New Hampshire researchers. This would halve the northeast’s winter snow season.

December 2011 through February 2012 was the fourth warmest winter on record since 1896 and the third lowest snow cover since 1966, when satellites began tracking snow cover. POW and NRDC cite an industry survey that said 50 percent of responding ski areas in 2011 opened late and 48 percent closed early, with every region experiencing a decrease in overall days of operation. The snowmobiling industry has had relatively flat registrations since 2000.

Skier visits between high and low snowfall years, from November 1999 to April 2010, were down more than 15 million across the US. The largest percentage changes occurred in Wisconsin (-36 percent), Oregon (-31 percent), New Mexico (-30 percent), Arizona (-29 percent) and Washington (-28 percent). The resulting difference in economic value added to the state economy ranged from $117 million to -$38 million.

Thirty-eight states benefit economically from winter sports, and 211,900 jobs are either directly or indirectly supported by the industry, according to the report. This includes restaurants, lodging, gas stations, grocery stores and bars.

Earlier this week at the United Nations’ climate talks in Doha, the Climate Policy Initiative released a report that says the $364 billion spent in 2010-11 to curb climate change falls short of the $1 trillion needed each year to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

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