• snowmelt;
  • energy balance model;
  • climate change


Snow is an important natural reservoir that holds water on the landscape for release later in the season in western North America and other portions of the world. As air temperature increases with global climate change, the character of the generally established seasonal snowcover will be affected. To study the specific response to variable climate, a carefully collected and processed meteorological data set for the 1984–2008 water years (WYs) was assembled for a snow-dominated headwater mountain catchment. The data were used to force a physically based, distributed energy balance snow model to simulate patterns of snow deposition and melt over the catchment for the 25-year period. This period covers both the highest (1984) and lowest (1992) snow seasons on record and exhibits extreme inter-annual variability. This unique forcing data set captured meteorological conditions that resulted in the range of variability in snowcover accumulation, timing of ablation, and the timing and amount of surface water input (SWI), and discharge during the 25-year study period. SWI is the amount of liquid water delivered to the soil surface from melting snow or from rain that passes through the snowcover or falls directly on the soil. Warm winters, characterized by early- and mid-winter rain, triggered earlier inputs from SWI and response in discharge than cool winters. Cool conditions prolonged the generation of SWI and streamflow out of the basin. Very wet conditions that were warm passed 50% of the SWI 27 days earlier and passed 50% of the discharge 15 days earlier, when compared to very wet conditions that were cool. Warmer conditions produced less snow water equivalent, shortened the melt season, and would be expected to extend the summer drought. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.