Interannual climate variability and snowpack in the western United States

Citation:
Cayan, DR.  1996.  Interannual climate variability and snowpack in the western United States. Journal of Climate. 9:928-948.

Date Published:

May

Keywords:

california, circulation patterns, cover, fluctuations, height field, northern hemisphere winter, precipitation, streamflow, teleconnections, temperature

Abstract:

An important part of the water supply in the western United States is derived from runoff fed by mountain snowmelt. Snow accumulation responds to both precipitation and temperature variations, and forms an interesting climatic index, since it integrates these influences over the entire late fall-spring period. Here, effects of cool season climate variability upon snow water equivalent (SWE) over the western part of the conterminous United States are examined. The focus is on measurements on/around 1 April, when snow accumulation is typically greatest. The primary data, from a network of mountainous snow courses, provides a good description of interannual fluctuations in snow accumulations, since many snow courses have records of five decades or more. For any given year, the spring SWE anomaly at a particular snow course is likely to be 25%-60% of its long-term average. Five separate regions of anomalous SWE variability are distinguished, using a rotated principal components analysis. Although effects vary with region and with elevation, in general, the anomalous winter precipitation has the strongest influence on spring SWE fluctuations. Anomalous temperature has a weaker effect overall, but it has great influence in lower elevations such as in the coastal Northwest, and during spring in higher elevations. The regional snow anomaly patterns are associated with precipitation and temperature anomalies in winter and early spring. Patterns of the precipitation, temperature, and snow anomalies extend over broad regional areas, much larger than individual watersheds. These surface anomalies are organized by the atmospheric circulation, with primary anomaly centers over the North Pacific Ocean as well as over western North America. For most of the regions, anomalously low SWE is associated with a winter circulation resembling the PNA pattern. With a strong low in the central North Pacific and high pressure over the Pacific Northwest, this pattern diverts North Pacific storms northward, away from the region. Both warm and cool phases of El Nino-Southern Oscillation tend to produce regional pattens with out-of-phase SWE anomalies in the Northwest and the Southwest.

Notes:

n/a

Website

DOI:

10.1175/1520-0442(1996)009<0928:icvasi>2.0.co;2