Potential for western US seasonal snowpack prediction

Sarah B. Kapnick, Xiaosong Yang, Gabriel Andres Vecchi, Thomas L. Delworth, Rich Gudgel, Sergey Malyshev, P. C.D. Milly, Elena Shevliakova, Seth Underwood, Steven A. Margulis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Western US snowpack-snow that accumulates on the ground in the mountains-plays a critical role in regional hydroclimate and water supply, with 80% of snowmelt runoff being used for agriculture. While climate projections provide estimates of snowpack loss by the end of the century and weather forecasts provide predictions of weather conditions out to 2 weeks, less progress has been made for snow predictions at seasonal timescales (months to 2 years), crucial for regional agricultural decisions (e.g., plant choice and quantity). Seasonal predictions with climate models first took the form of El Niño predictions 3 decades ago, with hydroclimate predictions emerging more recently. While the field has been focused on single-season predictions (3 months or less), we are now poised to advance our predictions beyond this timeframe. Utilizing observations, climate indices, and a suite of global climate models, we demonstrate the feasibility of seasonal snowpack predictions and quantify the limits of predictive skill 8 months in advance. This physically based dynamic system outperforms observation-based statistical predictions made on July 1 for March snowpack everywhere except the southern Sierra Nevada, a region where prediction skill is nonexistent for every predictor presently tested. Additionally, in the absence of externally forced negative trends in snowpack, narrow maritime mountain ranges with high hydroclimate variability pose a challenge for seasonal prediction in our present system; natural snowpack variability may inherently be unpredictable at this timescale. This work highlights present prediction system successes and gives cause for optimism for developing seasonal predictions for societal needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1180-1185
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 6 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Climate
  • Cryosphere
  • Seasonal prediction
  • Snowpack
  • Water


Dive into the research topics of 'Potential for western US seasonal snowpack prediction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this