Survival of Snow in the Melting Layer: Relative Humidity Influence

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  • 1 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • 2 Johannes Gutenberg University and Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz
  • 3 University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska
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Abstract

This study quantifies how far snow can fall into the melting layer (ML) before all snow has melted by examining a combination of in-situ observations from aircraft measurements in Lagrangian spiral descents from above through the ML and descents and ascents into the ML, as well as an extensive database of NOAA surface observer reports during the past 50 years. The airborne data contain information on the particle phase (solid, mixed, or liquid), population size distributions and shapes, along with temperature, relative humidity, and vertical velocity. A wide range of temperatures and ambient relative humidities are used for both the airborne and ground-based data. It is shown that an ice bulb temperature of 0°C, together with the air temperature and pressure (altitude), are good first order predictors of the highest temperature snowflakes can survive in the melting layer before completely melting. Particle size is also important, as is whether the particles are graupel or hail. If the relative humidity is too low, the particles will sublimate completely as they fall into the melting layer. Snow as warm as +7°C is observed from aircraft measurements and surface observations. Snow pellets survive to even warmer temperatures. Relationships are developed to represent the primary findings.

Corresponding author: Andrew J. Heymsfield, heyms1@ucar.edu

Abstract

This study quantifies how far snow can fall into the melting layer (ML) before all snow has melted by examining a combination of in-situ observations from aircraft measurements in Lagrangian spiral descents from above through the ML and descents and ascents into the ML, as well as an extensive database of NOAA surface observer reports during the past 50 years. The airborne data contain information on the particle phase (solid, mixed, or liquid), population size distributions and shapes, along with temperature, relative humidity, and vertical velocity. A wide range of temperatures and ambient relative humidities are used for both the airborne and ground-based data. It is shown that an ice bulb temperature of 0°C, together with the air temperature and pressure (altitude), are good first order predictors of the highest temperature snowflakes can survive in the melting layer before completely melting. Particle size is also important, as is whether the particles are graupel or hail. If the relative humidity is too low, the particles will sublimate completely as they fall into the melting layer. Snow as warm as +7°C is observed from aircraft measurements and surface observations. Snow pellets survive to even warmer temperatures. Relationships are developed to represent the primary findings.

Corresponding author: Andrew J. Heymsfield, heyms1@ucar.edu
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