As another component of the snow hydrology course at the Universidad de Chile, students conduct a field trip to one of the local triad of ski areas (the "three valleys") in the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, Chile. It's a short if dizzying drive up 2,000 meters of elevation to the base of La Parva, which we made a little over a month ago on August 3, 2018. We measured snow depth over a 500 x 500 meter grid and integrated these data with snow pit analysis, but you don't need a degree in civil engineering to see that the condition of the snowpack was pretty dire--at what should be the zenith of the snow season, average snow depth at the base registered at a little under half a meter. Recent prognoses have identified this coming year as a dry one for central Chile, with a 35% reduction in available snowmelt compared to the long-term average. This will have corresponding effects on the availability--and therefore costs--of water available for hydroelectric power generation and irrigation.
I recently visited another ski resort in the area and the situation, from a skier's perspective, was pretty dire. A stationary high has been parked off the coast resulting in unseasonably high teperatures for early September--on Tuesday temperatures hit 29°C/84°F in Santiago. This made for not the most pleasant skiing. Freeze-thaw had iced over most of the runs, and by 2PM puddles of slush had appeared interspersed with patches of bare earth. I spoke with someone who said there's probably two weeks of skiing left, but if conditions continue I can't imagine how they could stay open more than a week.
All this suggests that the "megadrought" that has affected Chile since 2010 will continue for a ninth consecutive year, superimposed upon an unusually warm decade. These climate changes appear to be here to stay, and Chile now faces the monumental task of adapting to the new reality of hot, dry conditions. If you are interested in reading more about climate change and its effects on hydrology in Chile, check out my friend Kate Cullen's ongoing work on the role glaciers play in a warming climate.