skip to main content

Title: Drivers of Snowfall Accumulation in the Central Idaho Mountains Using Long-Term High-Resolution WRF Simulations

The western United States region, an economic and agricultural powerhouse, is highly dependent on winter snowpack from the mountain west. Coupled with increasing water and renewable electricity demands, the predictability and viability of snowpack resources in a changing climate are becoming increasingly important. In Idaho, specifically, up to 75% of the state’s electricity production comes from hydropower, which is dependent on the timing and volume of spring snowmelt. While we know that 1 April snowpack is declining from SNOTEL observations and is expected to continue to decline as indicated by GCM predictions, our ability to understand the variability of snowfall accumulation and distribution at the regional level is less robust. In this paper, we analyze snowfall events using 0.9-km-resolution WRF simulations to understand the variability of snowfall accumulation and distribution in the mountains of Idaho between 1 October 2016 and 31 April 2017. Various characteristics of snowfall events throughout the season are evaluated, including the spatial coverage, event durations, and snowfall rates, along with the relationship between cloud microphysical variables—particularly liquid and ice water content—on snowfall amounts. Our findings suggest that efficient snowfall conditions—for example, higher levels of elevated supercooled liquid water—can exist throughout the winter season but are more impactful when surface temperatures are near or below freezing. Inefficient snowfall events are common, exceeding 50% of the total snowfall events for the year, with some of those occurring in peak winter. For such events, glaciogenic cloud seeding could make a significant impact on snowpack development and viability in the region.

Significance Statement

The purpose and significance of this study is to better understand the variability of snowfall event accumulation and distribution in the Payette Mountains region of Idaho as it relates to the local topography, the drivers of snowfall events, the cloud microphysical properties, and what constitutes an efficient or inefficient snowfall event (i.e., its ability to convert atmospheric liquid water into snowfall). As part of this process, we identify how many snowfall events in a season are inefficient to determine the number of snowfall events in a season that are candidates for enhancement by glaciogenic cloud seeding.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
American Meteorological Society
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
Medium: X Size: p. 1279-1295
["p. 1279-1295"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Recent studies from the Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: The Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE) demonstrated definitive radar evidence of seeding signatures in winter orographic clouds during three intensive operation periods (IOPs) where the background signal from natural precipitation was weak and a radar signal attributable to seeding could be identified as traceable seeding lines. Except for the three IOPs where seeding was detected, background natural snowfall was present during seeding operations and no clear seeding signatures were detected. This paper provides a quantitative analysis to assess if orographic cloud seeding effects are detectable using radar when background precipitation is present. We show that a 5-dB change in equivalent reflectivity factorZeis required to stand out against background naturalZevariability. This analysis considers four radar wavelengths, a range of background ice water contents (IWC) from 0.012 to 1.214 g m−3, and additional IWC introduced by seeding ranging from 0.012 to 0.486 g m−3. The upper-limit values of seeded IWC are based on measurements of IWC from the Nevzorov probe employed on the University of Wyoming King Air aircraft during SNOWIE. This analysis implies that seeding effects will be undetectable using radar within background snowfall unless the background IWC is small, and the seeding effects are large. It therefore remains uncertain whether seeding had no effect on cloud microstructure, and therefore produced no signature on radar, or whether seeding did have an effect, but that effect was undetectable against the background reflectivity associated with naturally produced precipitation.

    Significance Statement

    Operational glaciogenic seeding programs targeting wintertime orographic clouds are funded by a range of stakeholders to increase snowpack. Glaciogenic seeding signatures have been observed by radar when natural background snowfall is weak but never when heavy background precipitation was present. This analysis quantitatively shows that seeding effects will be undetectable using radar reflectivity under conditions of background snowfall unless the background snowfall is weak, and the seeding effects are large. It therefore remains uncertain whether seeding had no effect on cloud microstructure, and therefore produced no signature on radar, or whether seeding did have an effect, but that effect was undetectable against the background reflectivity associated with naturally produced precipitation. Alternative assessment methods such as trace element analysis in snow, aircraft measurements, precipitation measurements, and modeling should be used to determine the efficacy of orographic cloud seeding when heavy background precipitation is present.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    This study presents the first numerical simulations of seeded clouds over the Snowy Mountains of Australia. WRF-WxMod, a novel glaciogenic cloud-seeding model, was utilized to simulate the cloud response to winter orographic seeding under various meteorological conditions. Three cases during the 2018 seeding periods were selected for model evaluation, coinciding with an intensive ground-based measurement campaign. The campaign data were used for model validation and evaluation. Comparisons between simulations and observations demonstrate that the model realistically represents cloud structures, liquid water path, and precipitation. Sensitivity tests were performed to pinpoint key uncertainties in simulating natural and seeded clouds and precipitation processes. They also shed light on the complex interplay between various physical parameters/processes and their interaction with large-scale meteorology. Our study found that in unseeded scenarios, the warm and cold biases in different initialization datasets can heavily influence the intensity and phase of natural precipitation. Secondary ice production via Hallett–Mossop processes exerts a secondary influence. On the other hand, the seeding impacts are primarily sensitive to aerosol conditions and the natural ice nucleation process. Both factors alter the supercooled liquid water availability and the precipitation phase, consequently impacting the silver iodide (AgI) nucleation rate. Furthermore, model sensitivities were inconsistent across cases, indicating that no single model configuration optimally represents all three cases. This highlights the necessity of employing an ensemble approach for a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of the seeding impact.

    Significance Statement

    Winter orographic cloud seeding has been conducted for decades over the Snowy Mountains of Australia for securing water resources. However, this study is the first to perform cloud-seeding simulation for a robust, event-based seeding impact evaluation. A state-of-the-art cloud-seeding model (WRF-WxMod) was used to simulate the cloud seeding and quantified its impact on the region. The Southern Hemisphere, due to low aerosol emissions and highly pristine cloud conditions, has distinctly different cloud microphysical characteristics than the Northern Hemisphere, where WRF-WxMod has been successfully applied in a few regions over the United States. The results showed that WRF-WxMod could accurately capture the clouds and precipitation in both the natural and seeded conditions.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract A dry-air intrusion induced by the tropopause folding split the deep cloud into two layers resulting in a shallow orographic cloud with a supercooled liquid cloud top at around −15°C and an ice cloud above it on 19 January 2017 during the Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: The Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE). The airborne AgI seeding of this case was simulated by the WRF Weather Modification (WRF-WxMod) Model with different configurations. Simulations at different grid spacing, driven by different reanalysis data, using different model physics were conducted to explore the ability of WRF-WxMod to capture the properties of natural and seeded clouds. The detailed model–observation comparisons show that the simulation driven by ERA5 data, using Thompson–Eidhammer microphysics with 30% of the CCN climatology, best captured the observed cloud structure and supercooled liquid water properties. The ability of the model to correctly capture the wind field was critical for successful simulation of the seeding plume locations. The seeding plume features and ice number concentrations within them from the large-eddy simulations (LES) are in better agreement with observations than non-LES runs mostly due to weaker AgI dispersion associated with the finer grid spacing. Seeding effects on precipitation amount and impacted areas from LES seeding simulations agreed well with radar-derived values. This study shows that WRF-WxMod is able to simulate and quantify observed features of natural and seeded clouds given that critical observations are available to validate the model. Observation-constrained seeding ensemble simulations are proposed to quantify the AgI seeding impacts on wintertime orographic clouds. Significance Statement Recent observational work has demonstrated that the impact of airborne glaciogenic seeding of orographic supercooled liquid clouds is detectable and can be quantified in terms of the extra ground precipitation. This study aims, for the first time, to simulate this seeding impact for one well-observed case. The stakes are high: if the model performs well in this case, then seasonal simulations can be conducted with appropriate configurations after validations against observations, to determine the impact of a seeding program on the seasonal mountain snowpack and runoff, with more fidelity than ever. High–resolution weather simulations inherently carry uncertainty. Within the envelope of this uncertainty, the model compares very well to the field observations. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Potential factors affecting the inland penetration and orographic modulation of lake-effect precipitation east of Lake Ontario include the environmental (lake, land, and atmospheric) conditions, mode of the lake-effect system, and orographic processes associated with flow across the downstream Tug Hill Plateau (herein Tug Hill), Black River valley, and Adirondack Mountains (herein Adirondacks). In this study we use data from the KTYX WSR-88D, ERA5 reanalysis, New York State Mesonet, and Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign to examine how these factors influence lake-effect characteristics with emphasis on the region downstream of Tug Hill. During an eight-cool-season (16 November–15 April) study period (2012/13–2019/20), total radar-estimated precipitation during lake-effect periods increased gradually from Lake Ontario to upper Tug Hill and decreased abruptly where the Tug Hill escarpment drops into the Black River valley. The axis of maximum precipitation shifted poleward across the northern Black River valley and into the northwestern Adirondacks. In the western Adirondacks, the heaviest lake-effect snowfall periods featured strong, near-zonal boundary layer flow, a deep boundary layer, and a single precipitation band aligned along the long-lake axis. Airborne profiling radar observations collected during OWLeS IOP10 revealed precipitation enhancement over Tug Hill, spillover and shadowing in the Black River valley where a resonant lee wave was present, and precipitation invigoration over the western Adirondacks. These results illustrate the orographic modulation of inland-penetrating lake-effect systems downstream of Lake Ontario and the factors favoring heavy snowfall over the western Adirondacks.

    Significance Statement

    Inland penetrating lake-effect storms east of Lake Ontario affect remote rural communities, enable a regional winter-sports economy, and contribute to a snowpack that contributes to runoff and flooding during thaws and rain-on-snow events. In this study we illustrate how the region’s three major geographic features—Tug Hill, the Black River valley, and the western Adirondacks—affect the characteristics of lake-effect precipitation, describe the factors contributing to heavy snowfall over the western Adirondacks, and provide an examples of terrain effects in a lake-effect storm observed with a specially instrumented research aircraft.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    A field campaign at Siple Dome in West Antarctica during the austral summer 2019/20 offers an opportunity to evaluate climate model performance, particularly cloud microphysical simulation. Over Antarctic ice sheets and ice shelves, clouds are a major regulator of the surface energy balance, and in the warm season their presence occasionally induces surface melt that can gradually weaken an ice shelf structure. This dataset from Siple Dome, obtained using transportable and solar-powered equipment, includes surface energy balance measurements, meteorology, and cloud remote sensing. To demonstrate how these data can be used to evaluate model performance, comparisons are made with meteorological reanalysis known to give generally good performance over Antarctica (ERA5). Surface albedo measurements show expected variability with observed cloud amount, and can be used to evaluate a model’s snowpack parameterization. One case study discussed involves a squall with northerly winds, during which ERA5 fails to produce cloud cover throughout one of the days. A second case study illustrates how shortwave spectroradiometer measurements that encompass the 1.6-μm atmospheric window reveal cloud phase transitions associated with cloud life cycle. Here, continuously precipitating mixed-phase clouds become mainly liquid water clouds from local morning through the afternoon, not reproduced by ERA5. We challenge researchers to run their various regional or global models in a manner that has the large-scale meteorology follow the conditions of this field campaign, compare cloud and radiation simulations with this Siple Dome dataset, and potentially investigate why cloud microphysical simulations or other model components might produce discrepancies with these observations.

    significance statement

    Antarctica is a critical region for understanding climate change and sea level rise, as the great ice sheets and the ice shelves are subject to increasing risk as global climate warms. Climate models have difficulties over Antarctica, particularly with simulation of cloud properties that regulate snow surface melting or refreezing. Atmospheric and climate-related field work has significant challenges in the Antarctic, due to the small number of research stations that can support state-of-the-art equipment. Here we present new data from a suite of transportable and solar-powered instruments that can be deployed to remote Antarctic sites, including regions where ice shelves are most at risk, and we demonstrate how key components of climate model simulations can be evaluated against these data.

    more » « less