Climate change implications for tourism in the U.S. Great Lakes and Midwest

Sunday, November 17th, 2019

Because the Great Lakes are so large and deep, they influence local and regional weather and climate, which, in turn, influence things like agricultural practices, shipping, and tourism. Winter tourism, for instance, is highly dependent on temperature, snow cover, snowfall, length of the snow season, and the presence or absence of snow during winter holidays.

During the 2009-2010 winter season, tourism added over $3.5 billion to Great Lakes states’ economies and provided close to 63,000 jobs. The total gross annual revenue of downhill skiing and snowboarding areas in Great Lakes states is estimated at about $1.6 billion. Snowmobiling adds about $800 million annually to Michigan’s economy alone.

A study led by Natalie Chin (PhD 2018, Agricultural and Biological Engineering) and professor Keith Cherkauer (Agricultural and Biological Engineering) and colleagues Kyuhyun Byun and Alan Hamlet (University of Notre Dame), set out to detail information about potential climate change impacts in the Great Lakes that is directly relevant to winter recreation and tourism and that can be used to help tourism managers think about climate change and adaptation strategies for the future. The work built on existing analyses by considering how climate change could impact winter weather and hydrology important to tourism for the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes region.

The study found that by the 2080s, climate change could result in winters that are shorter by over a month, reductions of over a month in days with snow depths required for many kinds of winter recreation, and declines in average holiday snow depths of 50 percent or more. The results also show reductions in the percent area of the study region that would be considered viable for winter tourism from about 22 percent to 0.3 percent. Furthermore, days with temperatures suitable for artificial snowmaking decline to less than a month, annually, making it potentially less feasible as an adaptation strategy. All of the region’s current ski resorts are operating in areas that will become non-viable for winter tourism businesses under a high emissions scenario. Given the economic importance of the winter tourism industry in the study region, businesses and communities should consider climate change and potential adaptation strategies in their future planning and overall decision-making.

Chin, N., K. Byun, A. F. Hamlet and K. A. Cherkauer (2018). Assessing Potential Winter Weather Response to Climate Change and Implications for Tourism in the U.S. Great Lakes and Midwest. Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, 19, 42-56.

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