Abstract

The pathways air travels from the Pacific Ocean to the Intermountain West of the United States are important for understanding how air characteristics change and how this translates to the amount and distribution of snowfall. Recent studies have identified the most common moisture pathways in the Intermountain West, especially for heavy precipitation events. However, the role of moisture pathways on snowfall amount and distribution in specific regions remains unclear. Here, we investigate 24 precipitation events in the Payette Mountains of Idaho during January–March 2017 to understand how local atmospheric conditions are tied to three moisture pathways and how it impacts snowfall amount and distribution. During one pathway, southwesterly, moist, tropical air is directed into the Central Valley of California where the air is blocked by the Sierra Nevada, redirected northward and over lower terrain north of Lake Tahoe into the Snake River Plain of Idaho. Other pathways consist of unblocked flows that approach the coast of California from the southwest and then override the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades, and zonal flows approaching the coast of Oregon overriding the Oregon Cascades. Air masses in the Payette Mountains of Idaho associated with Sierra-blocked flow were observed to be warmer, moister, and windier compared to the other moisture pathways. During Sierra-blocked flow, higher snowfall rates, in terms of mean reflectivity, were observed more uniformly distributed throughout the region compared to the other flows, which observed lower snowfall rates that were predominantly collocated with areas of higher terrain. Of the total estimated snowfall captured in this study, 67% was observed during Sierra-blocked flow.

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