How Does Availability of Meteorological Forcing Data Impact Physically Based Snowpack Simulations?

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Journal of Hydrometeorology

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Physically based models facilitate understanding of seasonal snow processes but require meteorological forcing data beyond air temperature and precipitation (e.g., wind, humidity, shortwave radiation, and longwave radiation) that are typically unavailable at automatic weather stations (AWSs) and instead are often represented with empirical estimates. Research is needed to understand which forcings (after temperature and precipitation) would most benefit snow modeling through expanded observation or improved estimation techniques. Here, the impact of forcing data availability on snow model output is assessed with data-withholding experiments using 3-yr datasets at well-instrumented sites in four climates. The interplay between forcing availability and model complexity is examined among the Utah Energy Balance (UEB), the Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model (DHSVM) snow submodel, and the snow thermal model (SNTHERM). Sixty-four unique forcing scenarios were evaluated, with different assumptions regarding availability of hourly meteorological observations at each site. Modeled snow water equivalent (SWE) and snow surface temperature Tsurf diverged most often because of availability of longwave radiation, which is the least frequently measured forcing in cold regions in the western United States. Availability of longwave radiation (i.e., observed vs empirically estimated) caused maximum SWE differences up to 234 mm (57% of peak SWE), mean differences up to 6.2°C in Tsurf, and up to 32 days difference in snow disappearance timing. From a model data perspective, more common observations of longwave radiation at AWSs could benefit snow model development and applications, but other aspects (e.g., costs, site access, and maintenance) need consideration.

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