Evaluating water resources in California using a synoptic typing methodology

Schroeter, Derek W.
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University of Delaware
Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is the key component of water resources in California, and hence has been extensively investigated by many researchers. This study focuses on establishing a link between hemispheric-scale forcing mechanisms and the spring snowpack through a synoptic pathway. Daily meteorological data from Fresno, CA for the snow accumulation season from November to March over the period from 1950 to 2011 is used in a synoptic typing procedure in order to classify days with similar meteorological conditions into groups representing individual synoptic types. Twelve synoptic types are classified and subsequently related to 1 April snow water equivalent (SWE) values. One synoptic type proved to be particularly important for the magnitude of the spring snowpack explaining 50% to 70% of the variance in 1 April SWE at most snow courses. High frequencies of this synoptic type are found to be associated with the warm phase of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation and the negative phase of the Tropical Northern Hemisphere pattern. Moreover, univariate and multiple linear regression analyses show that this synoptic type is significantly related to indices of the Pacific Hadley-Walker circulation during the snow accumulation season and during the preceding fall. During the snow accumulation season the Northern Oscillation Index explains 43% of the variance while during the preceding fall the Southern Oscillation Index accounts for 23% of the variance in this synoptic type. Thus, a more complete understanding of tropical and extra-tropical interactions associated with the Pacific Hadley-Walker circulation may provide a basis for forecasting synoptic-scale conditions conducive to producing heavy snowfall and thereby California's water supply earlier in the water year.