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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Monitoring the daily evolution and extent of snow drought


Snow droughts are commonly defined as below-average snowpack at a point in time, typically 1 April in the western United States (wUS). This definition is valuable for interpreting the state of the snowpack but obscures the temporal evolution of snow drought. Borrowing from dynamical systems theory, we applied phase diagrams to visually examine the daily evolution of snow water equivalent (SWE) and accumulated precipitation conditions in maritime, intermountain, and continental snow climates in the wUS using station observations as well as spatially distributed estimates of SWE and precipitation. Using a percentile-based drought definition, phase diagrams of SWE and precipitation highlighted decision-relevant aspects of snow drought such as onset, evolution, and termination. The phase diagram approach can be used in tandem with spatially distributed estimates of daily SWE and precipitation to reveal variability in snow drought type and extent. When combined with streamflow or other environmental data, phase diagrams and spatial estimates of snow drought conditions can help inform drought monitoring and early warning systems and help link snow drought type and evolution to impacts on ecosystems, water resources, and recreation. A web tool is introduced allowing users to create real-time or historic snow drought phase diagrams.

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