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Impacts of ENSO on Snowfall Frequencies in the United States

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  • 1 Center for Ocean–Atmospheric Prediction Studies, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
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Abstract

Changes in the frequency of occurrence of snowfall during El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events are presented for the continental United States. This study is motivated by the need to improve winter climate forecasts for government agencies (i.e., U.S. Department of Transportation and Department of Energy) and winter entertainment facilities and the need for climatological studies. Daily snowfall data from 442 stations in the U.S. Historical Climatology Network are utilized. Selected stations each have more than 20 yr with 15 or more snowfall events per year during a 97-yr (1900–97) period of study. Three categories are created for each ENSO phase, based on the magnitude of daily snowfall amounts (in millimeters)—light: (0–50.8], moderate: (50.8–152.4], and heavy: (152.4–304.8]. Differences between neutral and cold or warm ENSO winters are created to show regions with increased or decreased occurrences in each snowfall category. Statistical tests are applied at each station to provide confidence levels for the identified changes in snowfall frequency. Simple field significance tests are completed for regions that show coherent ENSO signals. Results reveal several regions with significant changes in the frequency of occurrence of snowfall between neutral and cold or warm ENSO phases. For example, the Pacific Northwest has increased (decreased) occurrences of light, moderate, and heavy snowfalls during the cold- (warm-) phase ENSO winter, with the exception of light snows during the warm phase. Other regions with significant changes include the northern and eastern Great Lakes, the Northeast Corridor, and New England. The results may allow government agencies and private companies to mitigate adverse impacts of winter storms based on predictions of upcoming ENSO phases. Winter entertainment facilities, such as ski resorts, may actually benefit from these results. Combined with other winter-precipitation studies and the ever-improving ability to forecast each ENSO phase, this analysis of snow-event frequencies should aid in preparation for winter storms.

Corresponding author address: Shawn R. Smith, Center for Ocean–Atmospheric Prediction Studies, The Florida State University, R. M. Johnson Bldg., Ste. 200, 2035 E. Dirac Dr., Tallahassee, FL 32306-2840. Email: smith@coaps.fsu.edu

Abstract

Changes in the frequency of occurrence of snowfall during El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events are presented for the continental United States. This study is motivated by the need to improve winter climate forecasts for government agencies (i.e., U.S. Department of Transportation and Department of Energy) and winter entertainment facilities and the need for climatological studies. Daily snowfall data from 442 stations in the U.S. Historical Climatology Network are utilized. Selected stations each have more than 20 yr with 15 or more snowfall events per year during a 97-yr (1900–97) period of study. Three categories are created for each ENSO phase, based on the magnitude of daily snowfall amounts (in millimeters)—light: (0–50.8], moderate: (50.8–152.4], and heavy: (152.4–304.8]. Differences between neutral and cold or warm ENSO winters are created to show regions with increased or decreased occurrences in each snowfall category. Statistical tests are applied at each station to provide confidence levels for the identified changes in snowfall frequency. Simple field significance tests are completed for regions that show coherent ENSO signals. Results reveal several regions with significant changes in the frequency of occurrence of snowfall between neutral and cold or warm ENSO phases. For example, the Pacific Northwest has increased (decreased) occurrences of light, moderate, and heavy snowfalls during the cold- (warm-) phase ENSO winter, with the exception of light snows during the warm phase. Other regions with significant changes include the northern and eastern Great Lakes, the Northeast Corridor, and New England. The results may allow government agencies and private companies to mitigate adverse impacts of winter storms based on predictions of upcoming ENSO phases. Winter entertainment facilities, such as ski resorts, may actually benefit from these results. Combined with other winter-precipitation studies and the ever-improving ability to forecast each ENSO phase, this analysis of snow-event frequencies should aid in preparation for winter storms.

Corresponding author address: Shawn R. Smith, Center for Ocean–Atmospheric Prediction Studies, The Florida State University, R. M. Johnson Bldg., Ste. 200, 2035 E. Dirac Dr., Tallahassee, FL 32306-2840. Email: smith@coaps.fsu.edu

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