SCOTLAND may be blanketed in snow this week, but the ski industry is doomed to disappear within decades, a leading climate expert has warned.
Alex Hill, the chief government adviser with the Met Office, told The Scotsman there was no future for skiing in Scotland because climate change would see winters become too warm for regular snowfall.
Environmental groups last night agreed with this claim. However, although members of the ski industry agreed that climate change was having an impact, they said the industry could survive.
But Mr Hill said: "Put it this way: I won't be investing in the skiing industry.
"The amount of snow has been decreasing for the last 40 years, and there's no reason why it's going to stop now."
He added: "Will there be a ski industry in Scotland in 50 years' time? Very unlikely."
Met Office climate predictions, seen by The Scotsman, suggest that, by 2080, the average winter night-time temperature in the Highlands will be 2C, compared with -2C at present.
In Edinburgh the temperature will be 3C, which is warmer than current winter night-time temperatures in London.
Mr Hill explained that the current spell of snowy weather across the UK did not mean the climate was not warming.
"There is a difference between weather and climate," he said.
"It's about separating out what is weather and what is climate, what's happening in the square metre above your head – or even a country the size of Scotland – from the huge climatic changes covering vast areas of ocean and continents.
"Climate change doesn't mean there won't be snowfall. It just means it won't happen as often or with as much of it."
An analysis of the past four decades shows snowy days in the UK are down by a third, and the number of frosty days has declined by 26 per cent, fuelling the suggestion that skiing in Scotland will have a difficult future.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, agreed that the ski industry in Scotland would not survive.
"We have been conscious for a while that the ski industry has only a limited future and the industry has been looking at diversifying, with bike centres and activities that don't require there to be snow around," he said.
He explained that climate change was expected to bring larger amounts of precipitation. While the temperatures are cold enough, this will come down as snow, but as the climate warms up it will turn to rain, he said.
And he added: "The ski resorts might do quite well for a few decades before the snow finally disappears.
"It might struggle on and do reasonably well for a few years, certainly over the next decade."
However, after that, Dr Dixon said he would be surprised if there was any commercial ski industry in Scotland.
He added: "If anyone had any money left you wouldn't be putting it in the skiing industry."
Tania Alliod, marketing manager for Cairngorm Mountain ski resort, agreed that the future could be difficult due to climate change.
However, she added: "I think there will still be a ski industry in 50 years' time The snow line might move further up the mountains, but I think there will be snow resorts in Scotland that will still offer skiing."
She said that the the recession was currently working in the industry's favour, with more people thinking twice about whether to go overseas.
In the Cairngorms, there has been an 11 per cent rise in the number of skiers compared with this time last year.
However, even though it has been busy, she said it still did not compare to the 1970s and 1980s, when the area had consistently cold winters and good snow.
And she agreed that climate change was having an impact on conditions, describing this year as a "blip" due to its heavy snowfall and long periods of cold weather. In the long term, she said the industry faced difficult times.
"This is a blip," she said. "Our winters have become far less predictable than they were. We are getting far less favourable conditions.
"So we have to be a very responsive industry these days. However, it mustn't be written off because when it's good in Scotland it's very good."
Summer temperatures are also due to increase, according to climate change models.
Met Office predictions suggest that by 2080 the average summer temperature in the Highlands could be the same as the current average summer temperature in London – about 28C.
That compares with current average summer temperatures in the Highlands of about 23C.
And in Edinburgh summer temperatures are likely to increase from 25C today to 29C in 2080.
Mr Hill said devastating summers similar to that of 2003, when a heatwave killed thousands of people, would be normal by the 2040s and would seem cool by the 2060s.
"By 2080, 2003 will be a cool summer," he said.
"An average summer will be 41 degrees in London, which is like Seville."
He said there needed to be needs to be greater planning for the future.
"In 25 years' time how are we going to keep offices cool? If you think in 25 years' time we (in Scotland] are going to be where London is now, they use as much energy for cooling buildings in the summer as they do for heating them in the winter."
He also said that we should be planning for the potential for new diseases to occur in Scotland, only currently found in tropical countries.
Mr Hill said the best way to tackle climate change was for individuals to cut their own carbon footprint by becoming less consumerist – perhaps by not buying the latest perfume or using the latest razor.
"I am thinking of putting a sign on the back of my head saying, 'be brave, don't shave'," he said.