Observational and Synoptic Analyses of the Winter Precipitation Regime Change over Utah

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of Climate



First Page



American Meteorological Society

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Previous studies have indicated a widespread decline in snowpack over Utah accompanied by a decline in the snow–precipitation ratio while anecdotal evidence claims have been put forward that measured changes in Utah’s snowpack are spurious and do not reflect actual change. Using two distinct lines of investigation, this paper further analyzes the winter precipitation regime in the state of Utah. First, by means of observation-based, gridded daily temperature, precipitation, and remotely sensed data, as well as utilizing a climatological rain–snow threshold (RST) temperature method, the precipitation regime of Utah was scrutinized. Second, a comprehensive synoptic analysis was conducted as an alternate means that is independent from surface observations. It was found that the proportion of winter (January–March) precipitation falling as snow has decreased by 9% during the last half century, a combined result from a significant increase in rainfall and a minor decrease in snowfall. Meanwhile, observed snow depth across Utah has decreased and is accompanied by consistent decreases in snow cover and surface albedo. Weather systems with the potential to produce precipitation in Utah have decreased in number with those producing snowfall decreasing at a considerably greater rate. Further circulation analysis showed that an anomalous anticyclone has developed over western North America, which acts to reduce the frequency of cyclone waves impacting Utah. Combined with the increased precipitation, this feature suggests that the average precipitation per event has intensified with more of it falling as rain than as snow. Trends in the hydroclimate such as these have implications for present and future regional water policy in the state of Utah.


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