There’s No Business Like Snow Business

This blog post brought to you by WCO intern Laura Keys, who has not built a snowman during the 2014-2015 school year.

Like many of my fellow Athenians, I awoke this past Thursday and excitedly looked out the window to see how many inches of snow we had received. Weather forecasts had shown Athens receiving a potential 1-3 inches during the night, and students across the city awaited with bated breath for word of school closures and delays. So did it snow in Athens?

The view from my window agreed with the forecast from local website “Is It Snowing In Athens?” (http://isitsnowinginathens.com). The answer: a resounding no.

School and work continued as usual in Athens that day, much to the disappointment of many, and Athens was spared from a repeat of 2014’s Snowpocalypse that shut down operations for several days. While Athens’ economy is certainly not dependent on the presence of snow (and in fact, probably fares much worse when there -is- snow), many places in the world actually rely on snow to get their annual water and business needs met.

Measuring snow depth in California

Case 1: the entire state of California, the largest economy in the US. California is in a dire drought, with no foreseeable end in sight. Much of their water supply needs are met by snowpacks in the surrounding mountain ranges such as the Sierra Nevada, where snow falls during the winter and melts in the spring to supply cities that need the water. Snow levels have been much lower over the past few years, and that signals big trouble for California, whose GDP rivals that of Canada, Italy, or India. Californians definitely have room to complain about a lack of snow.

Skiing at Lake Lucerne

Case 2: Switzerland and mountainous European countries. Winter in Switzerland, Austria, and other Alpine nations is marked by outdoor recreation in the snow, particularly skiing. Skiing is a huge part of the winter economy, with families traveling by train to stay in resorts, rent skis, eat meals in restaurants, and generally spend money. Over the past several decades, precipitation has decreased in Switzerland by upwards of 60% in some areas, and that translates into serious economic losses due to a shorter skiing season. The Swiss are understandably distressed about missing out on snow.

Baikal seal pup in its den

Case 3: Baikal seals. Lake Baikal is the largest lake in the world, located in Siberia, and is home to the endemic Baikal seal. Snow in autumn provides habitat for these seals: a mother seal digs a den in the ice and snow in which to raise her pups. In spring when the ice melts, the den collapses, and the seals venture out into the world on their own. Snow is crucial for the life cycle of Baikal seals, so a lack of snowfall could be disastrous for the lake ecosystem.

In short, we Athenians aren’t going to suffer immense monetary or water supply shortfalls due to a lack of snow, but it is a nice departure from the norm to have some. Even those who hate snow can revel in the fact that when we do get snow, it doesn’t stick around forever; your bread and toilet paper supplies will last until the snow has melted away.

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