Increasingly frequent spring heat waves are prompting premature snow melts across the Pacific Northwest, jeopardizing a key water source for area residents, a new study has found.

Successive stretches of unseasonable heat have been occurring earlier in the year in a region that depends on snowpack for summer water, according to the study, published Wednesday in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science.

“Short-term events like heatwaves have had an under-appreciated impact on accelerating snow melt, and cumulatively, they can amplify each other,” lead author Luke Reyes, a doctoral student in Washington State University’s School of the Environment, said in a statement.

Heat domes, weather events in which the atmosphere traps hot ocean air, triggered record temperatures that rose to nearly 122 degrees Fahrenheit across the Pacific Northwest in late June 2021.

So extreme was this event that British Columbia endured severe floods in several snow- and glacier-fed watersheds, as well as a large rock avalanche, the authors noted.

While the researchers had intended to examine the snowmelt caused by that single event, they ended up finding that much of the region’s snowpack was already gone before the heat dome arrived.

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