Linking global changes of snowfall and wet-bulb temperature

Sagar K. Tamang, Ardeshir M. Ebtehaj, Andreas F. Prein, Andrew J. Heymsfield

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19 Scopus citations


Snowfall is one of the primary drivers of the global cryosphere and is declining in many regions of the world with widespread hydrological and ecological consequences. Previous studies have shown that the probability of snowfall occurrence is well described by wet-bulb temperatures below 1°C (1.1°C) over land (ocean). Using this relationship, wet-bulb temperatures from three reanalysis products as well as multisatellite and reanalysis precipitation data are analyzed from 1979 to 2017 to study changes in potential snowfall areas, snowfall-torainfall transition latitude, snowfall amount, and snowfall-to-precipitation ratio (SPR). Results are presented at hemispheric scales, as well as for three Köppen-Geiger climate classes and four major mountainous regions including the Alps, the western United States, High Mountain Asia (HMA), and the Andes. In all reanalysis products, while changes in the wet-bulb temperature over the Southern Hemisphere are mostly insignificant, significant positive trends are observed over the Northern Hemisphere (NH). Significant reductions are observed in annual-mean potential snowfall areas over NH land (ocean) by 0.52 (0.34) million km2 decade-1 due to an increase of 0.34°C (0.35°C) decade-1 in wet-bulb temperature. The fastest retreat in NH transition latitudes is observed over Europe and central Asia at 0.78 and 0.458 decade-1. Among mountainous regions, the largest decline in potential snowfall areas is observed over the Alps at 3.64% decade-1 followed by the western United States at 2.81% and HMA at 1.85% decade-1. This maximum decrease over the Alps is associated with significant reductions in annual snowfall of 20 mm decade-1 and SPR of 2% decade-1

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-59
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments. The first and second authors acknowledge support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Precipitation Measurement Project (NNX16AO56G), New (Early Career) Investigator Program award (NIP; 80NSSC18K0742), and the grant from the Terrestrial Hydrology Program (THP; 80NSSC18K152). The first author also acknowledges the support provided by Sommerfield Graduate Fellowship at University of Minnesota–Twin Cities during his first year of study. NCAR is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Meteorological Society.


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