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NOAA research holds promise of predicting snowpack before snow falls

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As farmers in the American West decide what, when and where to plant, and urban water managers plan for water needs in the next year, they want to know how much water their community will get from melting snow in the mountains.

This melting snow comes from snowpack, the high elevation reservoir of snow which melts in the spring and summer. Agriculture depends on snowpack for a majority of its water. Meltwater also contributes to municipal water supply; feeds rivers and streams, boosting fisheries and tourism; and conditions the landscape, helping lessen the effects of drought and wildfires.

As farmers in the American West decide what, when and where to plant, and urban water managers plan for water needs in the next year, they want to know how much water their community will get from melting snow in the mountains.

This melting snow comes from snowpack, the high elevation reservoir of snow which melts in the spring and summer. Agriculture depends on snowpack for a majority of its water. Meltwater also contributes to municipal water supply; feeds rivers and streams, boosting fisheries and tourism; and conditions the landscape, helping lessen the effects of drought and wildfires.

Now, new NOAA research is showing we can predict snow levels in the mountains of the West in March some eight months in advance. This prediction can be down to the scale of a mountain range, which will improve regional water forecasts.

“In summer when people are thinking about 4th of July fireworks and barbeques, long before the first snow has fallen, our experimental prediction system tells us what the following March will be like,” said Sarah Kapnick, a physical scientist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory who led the research that appeared online on January 22, 2018 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Advances in global climate models and high quality ocean, atmospheric and land observations are helping us push the frontiers of snowpack prediction.”

 

Continue reading at NOAA.

Image via California Dept. of Water Resources.