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The Climatological Rise in Winter Temperature- and Dewpoint-Based Thaw Events and Their Impact on Snow Depth on Mount Washington, New Hampshire

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  • 1 a Mount Washington Observatory, North Conway, New Hampshire
  • | 2 b Judd Gregg Meteorology Institute, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, New Hampshire
  • | 3 c Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
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Abstract

We analyze how winter thaw events (TE; T > 0°C) are changing on the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire, using three metrics: the number of TE, number of thaw hours, and number of thaw degree-hours for temperature and dewpoint for winters from 1935/36 to 2019/20. The impact of temperature-only TE and dewpoint TE on snow depth are compared to quantify the different impacts of sensible-only heating and sensible-and-latent heating, respectively. Results reveal that temperature and dewpoint TE for all metrics increased at a statistically significant rate (p < 0.05) over the full time periods studied for temperature (1935/36–2019/20) and dewpoint (1939/40–2019/20). Notably, around 2000/01, the positive trends increased for most variables, including dewpoint-thaw degree-hours that increased by 82.11 degree-hours decade−1 during 2000–20, which is approximately 5 times as faster as the 1939–2020 rate of 17.70 degree-hours decade−1. Furthermore, a clear upward shift occurred around 1990 in the lowest winter values of thaw hours and thaw degree-hours—winters now have a higher baseline amount of thaw than before 1990. Snow-depth loss during dewpoint TE (0.36 cm h−1) occurred more than 2 times as fast as temperature-only TE (0.14 cm h−1). With winters projected to warm throughout the twenty-first century in the northeastern United States, it is expected that the trends in winter thaw events, and the sensible and latent energy that they bring, will continue to rise and lead to more frequent winter flooding, fewer days of good quality snow for winter recreation, and changes in ecosystem function.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Eric P. Kelsey, ekelsey2@plymouth.edu

Abstract

We analyze how winter thaw events (TE; T > 0°C) are changing on the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire, using three metrics: the number of TE, number of thaw hours, and number of thaw degree-hours for temperature and dewpoint for winters from 1935/36 to 2019/20. The impact of temperature-only TE and dewpoint TE on snow depth are compared to quantify the different impacts of sensible-only heating and sensible-and-latent heating, respectively. Results reveal that temperature and dewpoint TE for all metrics increased at a statistically significant rate (p < 0.05) over the full time periods studied for temperature (1935/36–2019/20) and dewpoint (1939/40–2019/20). Notably, around 2000/01, the positive trends increased for most variables, including dewpoint-thaw degree-hours that increased by 82.11 degree-hours decade−1 during 2000–20, which is approximately 5 times as faster as the 1939–2020 rate of 17.70 degree-hours decade−1. Furthermore, a clear upward shift occurred around 1990 in the lowest winter values of thaw hours and thaw degree-hours—winters now have a higher baseline amount of thaw than before 1990. Snow-depth loss during dewpoint TE (0.36 cm h−1) occurred more than 2 times as fast as temperature-only TE (0.14 cm h−1). With winters projected to warm throughout the twenty-first century in the northeastern United States, it is expected that the trends in winter thaw events, and the sensible and latent energy that they bring, will continue to rise and lead to more frequent winter flooding, fewer days of good quality snow for winter recreation, and changes in ecosystem function.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Eric P. Kelsey, ekelsey2@plymouth.edu
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