Accumulation and melt dynamics of snowpack from a multiresolution regional climate model in the central Sierra Nevada, California



[1] The depth and timing of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains are of fundamental importance to California water resource availability, and recent studies indicate a shift toward earlier snowmelt consistent with projected impacts of anthropogenic climate change. In order for future studies to assess snowpack variability on seasonal to centennial time scales, physically based models of snowpack evolution at high spatial resolution must be improved. Here we evaluate modeled snowpack accuracy for the central Sierra Nevada in the Weather Research and Forecasting regional climate model coupled to the Noah land surface model. A simulation with nested domains at 27, 9, and 3 km grid spacings is presented for November 2001 to July 2002. Model outputs are compared with daily snowpack observations at 41 locations, air temperature at 31 locations, and precipitation at 10 locations. Comparison of snowpack at different resolutions suggests that 27 km simulations substantially underestimate snowpack, while 9 and 3 km simulations are closer to observations. Regional snowpack accumulation is accurately simulated at these high resolutions, but model snowmelt occurs an average of 22–25 days early. Some error can be traced to differences in elevation and observation scale between point-based measurements and model grid cells, but these factors cannot explain the persistent bias toward early snowmelt. A high correlation between snowmelt and error in modeled surface air temperature is found, with melt coinciding systematically with excessively cold air temperatures. One possible source of bias is an imbalance in turbulent heat fluxes, erroneously warming the snowpack while cooling the surface atmosphere.