Characteristics and Causes of Extreme Snowmelt over the Conterminous United States

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  • 1 a Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
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Abstract

Snowmelt is an essential process for the health and sustenance of numerous communities and ecosystems across the globe, though it also presents potential hazards when ablation processes are exceedingly rapid. Using 4 km daily snow water equivalent, temperature, and precipitation data for three decades (1988-2017), here we provide a broad characterization of extreme snowmelt episodes over the conterminous U.S. in terms of magnitude, timing, and coincident synoptic weather patterns. Larger magnitude extreme snowmelt events usually coincide with minimal precipitation and elevated temperatures. However, certain regions, particularly mountainous regions and the northeast U.S., exhibit greater likelihood of extreme snowmelt events during pronounced rain-on-snow events. During snowmelt extremes, snowmelt rate often exceeds precipitation in many regions. Meteorological patterns and associated water vapor transport most directly connected to extreme events over different regions are classified via a machine learning technique. Over the 30-year study period, there is a weakly increasing trend in the frequency of extremes, though this does not necessarily signify an increase in snowmelt magnitudes.

Corresponding author: Josh Welty, welty@email.arizona.edu

Abstract

Snowmelt is an essential process for the health and sustenance of numerous communities and ecosystems across the globe, though it also presents potential hazards when ablation processes are exceedingly rapid. Using 4 km daily snow water equivalent, temperature, and precipitation data for three decades (1988-2017), here we provide a broad characterization of extreme snowmelt episodes over the conterminous U.S. in terms of magnitude, timing, and coincident synoptic weather patterns. Larger magnitude extreme snowmelt events usually coincide with minimal precipitation and elevated temperatures. However, certain regions, particularly mountainous regions and the northeast U.S., exhibit greater likelihood of extreme snowmelt events during pronounced rain-on-snow events. During snowmelt extremes, snowmelt rate often exceeds precipitation in many regions. Meteorological patterns and associated water vapor transport most directly connected to extreme events over different regions are classified via a machine learning technique. Over the 30-year study period, there is a weakly increasing trend in the frequency of extremes, though this does not necessarily signify an increase in snowmelt magnitudes.

Corresponding author: Josh Welty, welty@email.arizona.edu
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