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Operational snow modeling: Addressing the challenges of an energy balance model for National Weather Service forecasts


Prediction of snowmelt has become a critical issue in much of the western United States given the increasing demand for water supply, changing snow cover patterns, and the subsequent requirement of optimal reservoir operation. The increasing importance of hydrologic predictions necessitates that traditional forecasting systems be re-evaluated periodically to assure continued evolution of the operational systems given scientific advancements in hydrology. The National Weather Service (NWS) SNOW17, a conceptually based model used for operational prediction of snowmelt, has been relatively unchanged for decades. In this study, the Snow-Atmosphere-Soil Transfer (SAST) model, which employs the energy balance method, is evaluated against the SNOW17 for the simulation of seasonal snowpack (both accumulation and melt) and basin discharge. We investigate model performance over a 13-year period using data from two basins within the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed located in southwestern Idaho. Both models are coupled to the NWS runoff model [SACramento Soil Moisture Accounting model (SACSMA)] to simulate basin streamflow. Results indicate that while in many years simulated snowpack and streamflow are similar between the two modeling systems, the SAST more often overestimates SWE during the spring due to a lack of mid-winter melt in the model. The SAST also had more rapid spring melt rates than the SNOW17, leading to larger errors in the timing and amount of discharge on average. In general, the simpler SNOW17 performed consistently well, and in several years, better than, the SAST model. Input requirements and related uncertainties, and to a lesser extent calibration, are likely to be primary factors affecting the implementation of an energy balance model in operational streamflow prediction. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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