Future Changes in Northern Hemisphere Snowfall

John P. Krasting Department of Environmental Science, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, and NOAA/GFDL, Princeton, New Jersey

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Anthony J. Broccoli Department of Environmental Science, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey

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Keith W. Dixon NOAA/GFDL, Princeton, New Jersey

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John R. Lanzante NOAA/GFDL, Princeton, New Jersey

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Abstract

Using simulations performed with 18 coupled atmosphere–ocean global climate models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5), projections of the Northern Hemisphere snowfall under the representative concentration pathway (RCP4.5) scenario are analyzed for the period 2006–2100. These models perform well in simulating twentieth-century snowfall, although there is a positive bias in many regions. Annual snowfall is projected to decrease across much of the Northern Hemisphere during the twenty-first century, with increases projected at higher latitudes. On a seasonal basis, the transition zone between negative and positive snowfall trends corresponds approximately to the −10°C isotherm of the late twentieth-century mean surface air temperature, such that positive trends prevail in winter over large regions of Eurasia and North America. Redistributions of snowfall throughout the entire snow season are projected to occur—even in locations where there is little change in annual snowfall. Changes in the fraction of precipitation falling as snow contribute to decreases in snowfall across most Northern Hemisphere regions, while changes in total precipitation typically contribute to increases in snowfall. A signal-to-noise analysis reveals that the projected changes in snowfall, based on the RCP4.5 scenario, are likely to become apparent during the twenty-first century for most locations in the Northern Hemisphere. The snowfall signal emerges more slowly than the temperature signal, suggesting that changes in snowfall are not likely to be early indicators of regional climate change.

Corresponding author address: John P. Krasting, 201 Forrestal Road, Princeton, NJ 08540. E-mail: john.krasting@noaa.gov

Abstract

Using simulations performed with 18 coupled atmosphere–ocean global climate models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5), projections of the Northern Hemisphere snowfall under the representative concentration pathway (RCP4.5) scenario are analyzed for the period 2006–2100. These models perform well in simulating twentieth-century snowfall, although there is a positive bias in many regions. Annual snowfall is projected to decrease across much of the Northern Hemisphere during the twenty-first century, with increases projected at higher latitudes. On a seasonal basis, the transition zone between negative and positive snowfall trends corresponds approximately to the −10°C isotherm of the late twentieth-century mean surface air temperature, such that positive trends prevail in winter over large regions of Eurasia and North America. Redistributions of snowfall throughout the entire snow season are projected to occur—even in locations where there is little change in annual snowfall. Changes in the fraction of precipitation falling as snow contribute to decreases in snowfall across most Northern Hemisphere regions, while changes in total precipitation typically contribute to increases in snowfall. A signal-to-noise analysis reveals that the projected changes in snowfall, based on the RCP4.5 scenario, are likely to become apparent during the twenty-first century for most locations in the Northern Hemisphere. The snowfall signal emerges more slowly than the temperature signal, suggesting that changes in snowfall are not likely to be early indicators of regional climate change.

Corresponding author address: John P. Krasting, 201 Forrestal Road, Princeton, NJ 08540. E-mail: john.krasting@noaa.gov
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