Rain-on-snow events pose a significant flood hazard in the western United States. This study provides a description of the spatial and temporal variability of the frequency of rain-on-snow events for 4318 sites in the western United States during water years (October through September) 1949–2003. Rain-on-snow events are found to be most common during the months of October through May; however, at sites in the interior western United States, rain-on-snow events can occur in substantial numbers as late as June and as early as September. An examination of the temporal variability of October through May rain-on-snow events indicates a mixture of increasing and decreasing trends in rain-on-snow events across the western United States. Decreasing trends in rain-on-snow events are most pronounced at lower elevations and are associated with trends toward fewer snowfall days and fewer precipitation days with snow on the ground. Rain-on-snow events are more (less) frequent in the northwestern (southwestern) United States during La Niña (El Niño) conditions. Additionally, increases in temperature in the western United States appear to be contributing to decreases in the number of rain-on-snow events for many sites through effects on the number of days with snowfall and the number of days with snow on the ground.

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U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, Colorado

National Institute for Water and Atmosphere Research, Christchurch, New Zealand