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Winter snow level rise in the northern Sierra Nevada from 2008 to 2017

TitleWinter snow level rise in the northern Sierra Nevada from 2008 to 2017
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsHatchett B.J, Daudert B., Garner C.B, Oakley N.S, Putnam A.E, White AB
Date Published2017/11
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number2073-4441
Accession NumberWOS:000416798300085
Keywordsamerica; atmospheric rivers; california; climate projections; mountain; Nevada; precipitation; rain; Sierra nevada; snow; snow level; snowpack; streamflow; variability; Water resources; western united-states

The partitioning of precipitation into frozen and liquid components influences snow-derived water resources and flood hazards in mountain environments. We used a 915-MHz Doppler radar wind profiler upstream of the northern Sierra Nevada to estimate the hourly elevation where snow melts to rain, or the snow level, during winter (December-February) precipitation events spanning water years (WY) 2008-2017. During this ten-year period, a Mann-Kendall test indicated a significant (p < 0.001) positive trend in snow level with a Thiel-Sen slope of 72 m year(-1). We estimated total precipitation falling as snow (snow fraction) between WY1951 and 2017 using nine daily mid-elevation (1200-2000 m) climate stations and two hourly stations spanning WY2008-2017. The climate-station-based snow fraction estimates agreed well with snow-level radar values (R-2 = 0.95, p < 0.01), indicating that snow fractions represent a reasonable method to estimate changes in frozen precipitation. Snow fraction significantly (p < 0.001) declined during WY2008-2017 at a rate of 0.035 (3.5%) year(-1). Single-point correlations between detrended snow fraction and sea-surface temperatures (SST) suggested that positive SST anomalies along the California coast favor liquid phase precipitation during winter. Reanalysis-derived integrated moisture transported upstream of the northern Sierra Nevada was negatively correlated with snow fraction (R-2 = 0.90, p < 0.01), with atmospheric rivers representing the likely circulation mechanism producing low-snow-fraction storms.

Short TitleWater-Sui
Student Publication: