When Rain Falls On Snow, Arctic Animals May Starve : NPR
It's like the worst game of Orgeon Trail ever.
"Long story short, about 20,000 musk oxen starved to death because of this event," says geologist Jaakko Putkonen. It was a "humongous event" that took place in the fall of 2003.
Putkonen, who is a professor at the University of North Dakota, has since discovered a few anecdotal accounts of big rain-on-snow events that killed reindeer in the Arctic and in Scandinavia.
What happens is this: Unusually warm weather drops rain on top of snowpack. The rain either pools at the surface or trickles down to the soil below the snowpack, then freezes into a sheet of ice. Musk oxen, which are shaggy, cow-sized animals that weigh hundreds of pounds, can't break through the ice to browse on plants underneath the snow. Sooner or later, they starve.