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North American Snow Depth and Climate Teleconnection Patterns

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  • 1 Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Columbia University, New York, New York
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Abstract

Snow–atmosphere relationships have been studied for nearly half a century, but the primary focus has been on snow extent variability, largely because of the relative scarcity of snow depth data. A recently released North American snow depth dataset, with extensive spatial coverage and multidecadal temporal duration, provides a new opportunity to compare snow depth–climate relationships with snow extent–climate relationships over North America. Robust concurrent lead and lag correlations are observed between snow depth and two major climate modes, the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) and the Pacific–North America (PNA) pattern, across North America and throughout the snow season. In contrast, snow extent exhibits a less coherent relationship with PDO and PNA except in late spring, which can be interpreted as a residual of the snow depth–climate mode relationship. A regional signature for the snow depth–PDO/PNA relationship is also identified, centered over interior central-western North America. Smaller scales mask the regional effect of PDO and PNA because of local snow depth variability, while larger continental scales exceed the regional domain of the climate mode teleconnections. Overall these results suggest that North American snow depth variability may have greater climatic causes and consequences than snow extent. Physical mechanisms that may be responsible for the observed snow depth–climate teleconnection patterns such as the surface energy balance, moisture transport, and atmospheric flow regimes are briefly discussed.

Corresponding author address: Yan Ge, Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Columbia University, 918 S. W. Mudd Hall, 500 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027. Email: yg2124@columbia.edu

Abstract

Snow–atmosphere relationships have been studied for nearly half a century, but the primary focus has been on snow extent variability, largely because of the relative scarcity of snow depth data. A recently released North American snow depth dataset, with extensive spatial coverage and multidecadal temporal duration, provides a new opportunity to compare snow depth–climate relationships with snow extent–climate relationships over North America. Robust concurrent lead and lag correlations are observed between snow depth and two major climate modes, the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) and the Pacific–North America (PNA) pattern, across North America and throughout the snow season. In contrast, snow extent exhibits a less coherent relationship with PDO and PNA except in late spring, which can be interpreted as a residual of the snow depth–climate mode relationship. A regional signature for the snow depth–PDO/PNA relationship is also identified, centered over interior central-western North America. Smaller scales mask the regional effect of PDO and PNA because of local snow depth variability, while larger continental scales exceed the regional domain of the climate mode teleconnections. Overall these results suggest that North American snow depth variability may have greater climatic causes and consequences than snow extent. Physical mechanisms that may be responsible for the observed snow depth–climate teleconnection patterns such as the surface energy balance, moisture transport, and atmospheric flow regimes are briefly discussed.

Corresponding author address: Yan Ge, Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Columbia University, 918 S. W. Mudd Hall, 500 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027. Email: yg2124@columbia.edu

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