Scotland will soon run out of snow

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The Independent Online
SNOW WILL virtually vanish from Scotland in the coming century, according to the Meteorological Office's latest supercomputer model of global climate change.

The Met Office's figures show that the onset of global warming will lead to increased precipitation over northern Britain - which will fall as heavy rain, rather than snow, because of an anticipated rise in air temperatures.

Snowfall in Scotland is forecast to decline sharply, to a fraction of its present level.

The prediction, contained in unpublished data seen by The Independent, is ominous news for the Scottish skiing industry, which two months ago received a long-awaited boost when planning permission was granted for a new pounds 15m funicular railway to transport skiers to the top of the Cairngorm mountains.

The warmer winters north of the border mean good snow conditions are hard to find, and the highest peaks, at just over 4,000ft, are less than a third the height of Alpine summits.

At Glenshee in the warm winter of 1991-92, the number of skier-days, which can be 180,000 in a good year, fell to only 12,500. But the number will fall even further, according to the latest mathematical model of the world's climate, HADCM3, constructed at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research at Bracknell in Berkshire - one of the world's leading climate-change research bodies.

The model, first run in the autumn on the Hadley Centre's Cray T3E supercomputer, simulates the atmosphere with the greenhouse gases that the world is relentlessly pumping into it (such as carbon dioxide from cars and power stations), which retain more of the sun's heat - creating what is known as the greenhouse effect.

The simulation shows that winter rainfall will get heavier in northern Britain, as average temperatures rise by an expected 3C by 2100 - a massive increase. It also shows a dramatic decline in snowfall in Scotland north of the Clyde and the Forth. By the end of the century snowfall is predicted to be barely a tenth of what it is now.

Dr Geoff Jenkins, head of the climate prediction programme at the Hadley Centre, said: "The temperature rise will mean that more of the precipitation in Scotland will fall as rain rather than snow, so the amount of snowfall will drastically reduce.

"There will be huge year- to-year variability, and there will be some winters when snowfall is still normal. We cannot claim adequate simulation on a year-to-year basis, but we do claim to reflect the underlying trend."

Snowfall is also likely to decrease over England and Wales, but it is in Scotland - starting from a higher base - that the decline will be most marked.

The heavy rain likely to replace it will do nothing to make Scottish winters more attractive.

Scotland's ski industry centres on five resorts: Ben Nevis, Glencoe, Glenshee, The Lecht and Cairn Gorm.

The season runs from January to April, with the February mid-term school holidays a crucial business period. Last October, after a long planning battle, the Scottish Court of Session in Edinburgh gave permission for the new pounds 15m funicular railway to be driven up into the Cairngorm mountains to replace the ageing chairlift.

Conservation organisations, led by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, had objected on the grounds that the large engineering works would be out of place in one of Britain's most remarkable wilderness areas.

Construction of the railway is due to begin in the new year.