Snow conditions in northern Europe: the dynamics of interannual variability versus projected long-term change

Räisänen, Jouni

Simulations by the EURO-CORDEX (European branch of the Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment) regional climate models indicate a widespread future decrease in snow water equivalent (SWE) in northern Europe. This concurs with the negative interannual correlation between SWE and winter temperature in the southern parts of the domain but not with the positive correlation observed further north and over the Scandinavian mountains. To better understand these similarities and differences, interannual variations and projected future changes in SWE are attributed to anomalies or changes in three factors: total precipitation, the snowfall fraction of precipitation and the fraction of accumulated snowfall that remains on the ground (the snow-on-ground fraction). In areas with relatively mild winter climate, the latter two terms govern both the long-term change and interannual variability, resulting in less snow with higher temperatures. In colder areas, however, interannual SWE variability is dominated by variations in total precipitation. Since total precipitation is positively correlated with temperature, more snow tends to accumulate in milder winters. Still, even in these areas, SWE is projected to decrease in the future due to the reduced snowfall and snow-on-ground fractions in response to higher temperatures. Although winter total precipitation is projected to increase, its increase is smaller than would be expected from the interannual covariation of temperature and precipitation and is therefore insufficient to compensate the lower snowfall and snow-on-ground fractions. Furthermore, interannual SWE variability in northern Europe in the simulated warmer future climate is increasingly governed by variations in the snowfall and snow-on-ground fractions and less by variations in total precipitation.

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Räisänen, Jouni: Snow conditions in northern Europe: the dynamics of interannual variability versus projected long-term change. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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