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Systematic Patterns of the Inconsistency between Snow Water Equivalent and Accumulated Precipitation as Reported by the Snowpack Telemetry Network

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  • 1 Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
  • | 2 Department of Watershed Sciences, and Department of Plants, Soils, and Climate, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
  • | 3 Department of Plants, Soils, and Climate, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
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Abstract

The authors investigated the accuracy of snow water equivalent (SWE) observations compiled by 748 Snowpack Telemetry stations and attributed the systematic bias introduced to SWE measurements to drifting snow. Often observed, SWE outpaces accumulated precipitation (AP), which can be statistically and physically explained through 1) precipitation undercatchment and/or 2) drifting snow. Forty-four percent of the 748 stations reported at least one year where the maximum SWE was greater than AP, while 16% of the stations showed this inconsistency for at least 20% of the observed years. Regions with a higher likelihood of inconsistency contained drier snow and are exposed to higher winds speeds, both of which are positively correlated to drifting snow potential as well as gauge undercatch. Differentiating between gauge undercatch and potential drifting scenarios, days when SWE increased but AP remained zero were used. These drift days occurred on an average of 13.3 days per year for all stations, with 31% greater wind speeds at 10 m for such days (using reanalysis winds). Findings suggest marked consistency between SWE and AP throughout the Cascade Mountains and lower elevations of the interior west while indicating notable inconsistency between these two variables throughout the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, Utah mountain ranges, and the Sierra Nevada.

Corresponding author address: Jiming Jin, 4820 Old Main Hill, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322. E-mail: jiming.jin@usu.edu

Abstract

The authors investigated the accuracy of snow water equivalent (SWE) observations compiled by 748 Snowpack Telemetry stations and attributed the systematic bias introduced to SWE measurements to drifting snow. Often observed, SWE outpaces accumulated precipitation (AP), which can be statistically and physically explained through 1) precipitation undercatchment and/or 2) drifting snow. Forty-four percent of the 748 stations reported at least one year where the maximum SWE was greater than AP, while 16% of the stations showed this inconsistency for at least 20% of the observed years. Regions with a higher likelihood of inconsistency contained drier snow and are exposed to higher winds speeds, both of which are positively correlated to drifting snow potential as well as gauge undercatch. Differentiating between gauge undercatch and potential drifting scenarios, days when SWE increased but AP remained zero were used. These drift days occurred on an average of 13.3 days per year for all stations, with 31% greater wind speeds at 10 m for such days (using reanalysis winds). Findings suggest marked consistency between SWE and AP throughout the Cascade Mountains and lower elevations of the interior west while indicating notable inconsistency between these two variables throughout the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, Utah mountain ranges, and the Sierra Nevada.

Corresponding author address: Jiming Jin, 4820 Old Main Hill, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322. E-mail: jiming.jin@usu.edu
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