Climatic Change

, Volume 99, Issue 1–2, pp 141–153 | Cite as

Long-term variability in Northern Hemisphere snow cover and associations with warmer winters

  • Gregory J. McCabe
  • David M. Wolock


A monthly snow accumulation and melt model is used with gridded monthly temperature and precipitation data for the Northern Hemisphere to generate time series of March snow-covered area (SCA) for the period 1905 through 2002. The time series of estimated SCA for March is verified by comparison with previously published time series of SCA for the Northern Hemisphere. The time series of estimated Northern Hemisphere March SCA shows a substantial decrease since about 1970, and this decrease corresponds to an increase in mean winter Northern Hemisphere temperature. The increase in winter temperature has caused a decrease in the fraction of precipitation that occurs as snow and an increase in snowmelt for some parts of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly the mid-latitudes, thus reducing snow packs and March SCA. In addition, the increase in winter temperature and the decreases in SCA appear to be associated with a contraction of the circumpolar vortex and a poleward movement of storm tracks, resulting in decreased precipitation (and snow) in the low- to mid-latitudes and an increase in precipitation (and snow) in high latitudes. If Northern Hemisphere winter temperatures continue to warm as they have since the 1970s, then March SCA will likely continue to decrease.


Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover Storm Track Arctic Oscillation Northern Hemisphere Temperature 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Angell JK (1998) Contraction of the 300 mbar north circumpolar vortex during 1963–1997 and its movement into the Eastern Hemisphere. J Geophys Res 103:25887–25893CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angell JK (2006) Changes in the 300-mb North circumpolar vortex, 1963–2001. J Climate 19:2984–2994CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bamzai A (2003) Relationship between snow cover variability and Arctic oscillation index on a hierarchy of time scales. Int J Climatol 23:131–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bradley RS, Diaz HF, Eischeid JK, Jones PD, Kelly PM, Goodess CM (1987) Precipitation fluctuations over Northern Hemisphere land areas since the mid-19th century. Science 237:171–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown RD (2000) Northern Hemisphere snow cover variability and change, 1915–1997. J Climate 13:2339–2355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown R (2002) Reconstructed North American, Eurasian, and Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent, 1915–1997. National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, Digital mediaGoogle Scholar
  7. Burnett A (1993) Size variations and long-wave circulation within the January Northern Hemisphere circumpolar vortex: 1946–1989. J Clim 6:1914–1920CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark MP, Serreze MC, Robinson DA (1999) Atmospheric controls of Eurasian snow extent. Int J Climatol 19:27–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dai A, Fung IY, Del Genio AD (1997) Surface observed global land precipitation variations during 1900–1988. J Clim 10:2943–2962CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Davis RE, Benkovic SR (1992) Climatological variations in the Northern Hemisphere circumpolar vortex in January. Theor Appl Climatol 46:63–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Davis RE, Benkovic SR (1994) Spatial and temporal variations of the January circumpolar vortex over the Northern Hemisphere. Int J Climatol 14:415–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Frauenfeld OW, Davis RE (2000) The influence of El Nino–Southern oscillation events on the Northern Hemisphere 500 hPa circumpolar vortex. Geophys Res Lett 27:537–540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frauenfeld OW, Davis RE (2003) Northern Hemisphere circumpolar vortex trends and climate change implications. Geophys Res Lett 108(D14):4423. doi: 10.1029/2002JD002958 Google Scholar
  14. Frei A, Robinson DA (1999) Northern Hemisphere snow extent: regional variability 1972–1994. Int J Climatol 19:1535–1560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Frei A, Robinson DA, Hughes MG (1999) North American snow extent: 1900–1994. Int J Climatol 19:1517–1534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Groisman PY, Easterling D (1994) Variability and trends of total precipitation and snowfall over the United States and Canada. J Climate 7:184–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Groisman PY, Karl TR, Knight RW (1994) Changes of snow cover, temperature, and radiative heat balance. J Climate 7:1633–1656CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hamlet AF, Lettenmaier DP (1999) Effects of climatic change on hydrology and water resources in the Columbia River basin. J Am Water Resour Assoc 35:1597–1623CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hay LE, Clark MP, Wilby RL, Gutowski WJ, Leavesley GH, Pan Z, Arritt RW, Takle ES (2002) Use of regional climate model output for hydrologic simulations. J Hydrometeor 3:571–590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Johannessen OM, Khvorostovsky K, Miles MW, Bobylev LP (2005) Recent ice-sheet growth in the interior of Greenland. Science 310:1013–1016. doi: 10.1126/science.1115356 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Karl TR, Groisman PY, Knight RW, Heim RR (1993) Recent variations of snow cover and snowfall in North America and their relation to precipitation and temperature variations. J Climate 6:1327–1344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McCabe GJ, Ayers MA (1989) Hydrologic effects of climate change in the Delaware River Basin. Water Resour Bull 25:1231–1242Google Scholar
  23. McCabe GJ, Wolock DM (1999) Future snowpack conditions in the western United States derived from general circulation model climate simulations. J Am Water Resour Assoc 35:1473–1484CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McCabe GJ, Wolock DM (2008) Joint variability of global runoff and global sea-surface temperatures. J Hydrometeor 9:816–824CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McCabe GJ, Clark MP, Serreze MC (2001) Trends in Northern Hemisphere surface cyclone frequency intensity. J Clim 14:2763–2768CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mitchell TD (2005) An improved method of constructing a database of monthly climate observations and associated high resolution grids. Int J Climatol 25:693–712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mote PW, Hamlet AF, Clark MP, Lettenmaier DP (2005) Declining mountain snowpack in western North America. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 86:39–49. doi: 10.1175/BAMS-86-1-39 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nash JE, Sutcliffe JV (1970) River flow forecasting through conceptual models, I, a discussion of principles. J Hydrol 10:282–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nijssen B, O’Donnell GM, Hamlet A, Lettenmaier DP (2000) Hydrologic sensitivity of global rivers to climate change. Clim Change 50:515–517Google Scholar
  30. Rango A, Martinec J (1995) Revisiting the degree-day method for snowmelt computations. Water Resour Bull 31:657–669Google Scholar
  31. Robinson DA, Frei A (2000) Seasonal variability of Northern Hemisphere snow extent using visible satellite data. Prof Geogr 51:307–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Robinson DA, Dewey KF, Heim R (1993) Global snow cover monitoring: an update. Bull Am Meteor Soc 74:1689–1696CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tarboton DG, Al-Adhami MJ, Bowles DS (1991) A preliminary comparison of snowmelt models for erosion prediction. In: Proceedings of the 59th annual western snow conference, Juneau, Alaska, pp 79–90Google Scholar
  34. Tasker G, Ayers M, Wolock D, McCabe G (1991) Sensitivity of drought risks in the Delaware River Basin to climate change. In: Proceedings of the technical and business exhibition and symposium, Huntsville Association of Technical Societies, Huntsville, Alabama, pp 153–158Google Scholar
  35. Thompson DWJ, Wallace JM (1998) The Arctic oscillation signature in wintertime geopotential height and temperature fields. Geophys Res Lett 25:1297–1300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. van Hylckama TEA (1956) The water balance of the earth. Publ Climatol 9:1–117Google Scholar
  37. Vinnikov KY, Groisman PY, Lugina KM (1990) Empirical data on contemporary global climate changes (temperature and precipitation). J Climate 3:662–677CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Walsh JE, Tucek DR, Peterson MR (1982) Seasonal snow cover and short-term climatic fluctuations over the United States. Mon Wea Rev 110:1474–1485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wolock DM, McCabe GJ (1999) Effects of potential climatic change on annual runoff in the conterminous United States. J Am Water Resour Assoc 35:1341–1350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ye H, Cho HR, Gustafson PE (1998) The changes in Russian winter snow accumulation during 1936–83 and its spatial patterns. J Climate 11:856–863CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Denver Federal CenterUS Geological SurveyDenverUSA
  2. 2.US Geological SurveyLawrenceUSA

Personalised recommendations