Converting snow depth to snow water equivalent using climatological variables

Hill, David F.; Burakowski, Elizabeth A.; Crumley, Ryan L.; Keon, Julia; Hu, J. Michelle; Arendt, Anthony A.; Wikstrom Jones, Katreen; Wolken, Gabriel J.

We present a simple method that allows snow depth measurements to be converted to snow water equivalent (SWE) estimates. These estimates are useful to individuals interested in water resources, ecological function, and avalanche forecasting. They can also be assimilated into models to help improve predictions of total water volumes over large regions. The conversion of depth to SWE is particularly valuable since snow depth measurements are far more numerous than costlier and more complex SWE measurements. Our model regresses SWE against snow depth (h), day of water year (DOY) and climatological (30-year normal) values for winter (December, January, February) precipitation (PPTWT), and the difference (TD) between mean temperature of the warmest month and mean temperature of the coldest month, producing a power-law relationship. Relying on climatological normals rather than weather data for a given year allows our model to be applied at measurement sites lacking a weather station. Separate equations are obtained for the accumulation and the ablation phases of the snowpack. The model is validated against a large database of snow pillow measurements and yields a bias in SWE of less than 2 mm and a root-mean-squared error (RMSE) in SWE of less than 60 mm. The model is additionally validated against two completely independent sets of data: one from western North America and one from the northeastern United States. Finally, the results are compared with three other models for bulk density that have varying degrees of complexity and that were built in multiple geographic regions. The results show that the model described in this paper has the best performance for the validation data sets.

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Hill, David F. / Burakowski, Elizabeth A. / Crumley, Ryan L. / et al: Converting snow depth to snow water equivalent using climatological variables. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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