Journal article

Snowpack regimes of the Western United States

Snow accumulation and melt patterns play a significant role in the water, energy, carbon, and nutrient cycles in the montane environments of the Western United States. Recent studies have illustrated that changes in the snow/rainfall apportionments and snow accumulation and melt patterns may occur as a consequence of changes in climate in the region. In order to understand how these changes may affect the snow regimes of the region, the current characteristics of the snow accumulation and melt patterns must be identified. Here we characterize the snow water equivalent (SWE) curve formed by the daily SWE values at 766 snow pillow stations in the Western United States, focusing on several metrics of the yearly SWE curves and the relationships between the different metrics. The metrics are the initial snow accumulation and snow disappearance dates, the peak snow accumulation and date of peak, the length of the snow accumulation season, the length of the snowmelt season, and the snow accumulation and snowmelt slopes. Three snow regimes emerge from these results: a maritime, an intermountain, and a continental regime. The maritime regime is characterized by higher maximum snow accumulations reaching 300 cm and shorter accumulation periods of less than 220 days. Conversely, the continental regime is characterized by lower maximum accumulations below 200 cm and longer accumulation periods reaching over 260 days. The intermountain regime lies in between. The regions that show the characteristics of the maritime regime include the Cascade Mountains, the Klamath Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The intermountain regime includes the Eastern Cascades slopes and foothills, the Blue Mountains, Northern and Central basins and ranges, the Columbia Mountains/Northern Rockies, the Idaho Batholith, and the Canadian Rockies. Lastly, the continental regime includes the Middle and Southern Rockies, and the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains. The implications of snow regime classification are discussed in the context of possible changes in accumulation and melt patterns associated with regional warming.

Related material