Characteristics and causes of extreme snowmelt over the conterminous United States

Josh Welty, Xubin Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Snowmelt is an essential process for the health and sustenance of numerous communities and ecosystems across the globe, though it also presents potential hazards when ablation processes are exceedingly rapid. Using 4-km daily snow water equivalent, temperature, and precipitation data for three decades (1988-2017), here we provide a broad characterization of extreme snowmelt episodes over the conterminous United States in terms of magnitude, timing, and coincident synoptic weather patterns. Larger-magnitude extreme snowmelt events usually coincide with minimal precipitation and elevated temperatures. However, certain regions, particularly mountainous regions and the northeastern United States, exhibit greater likelihood of extreme snowmelt events during pronounced rain-on-snow events. During snowmelt extremes, snowmelt rate often exceeds precipitation in many regions. Meteorological patterns and associated water vapor transport most directly connected to extreme events over different regions are classified via a machine-learning technique. Over the 30-yr study period, there is a weakly increasing trend in the frequency of extremes, though this does not necessarily signify an increase in snowmelt magnitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1526-E1542
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Extreme events
  • Flood events
  • Precipitation
  • Snow
  • Snowmelt/icemelt
  • Temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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