Anticipated changes to the snow season in Alaska: Elevation dependency, timing and extremes.

Snowfall and snow season length across Alaska control the surface hydrology and underlying soil properties and also influence near-surface air temperature by changing the energy balance. Current projections of warming suggest that considerable change will occur to key snow parameters, possibly contributing to extensive infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost, an increased frequency of rain-on-snow events and reduced soil recharge in the spring due to shallow end-of-winter snowpack. This study investigates projected changes to mean annual snowfall, dates of snow onset and snowmelt and extreme snowfall for Alaska, using dynamically downscaled reanalysis and climate model simulations. These include the ERA-Interim reanalysis from 1981 to 2010, and two Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 models: Community Climate System Model version 4 (CCSM4) and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Climate Model version 3 (GFDL-CM3) from 1981 to 2100. The analysis is presented in 30-year periods (i.e., 1981-2010, 2011-2040, 2041-2070 and 2071-2100) with the future scenarios from Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5. Late-century projections of average annual snowfall at low elevations (0-1,000 m) show decreases of 41.3 and 40.6% for CCSM4 and GFDL-CM3, respectively. At high elevations (1,000-2,000 m), the reductions are smaller at 13.5 and 14.2%, respectively. End-of-winter snow-water equivalent displays reductions at all elevations in the future periods. Snow season length is shortened due to later snow onset and earlier snowmelt; many locations in southwest Alaska no longer experience continuous winter snowpack by the late-century period. Maximum 2-day snowfall amounts are projected to decrease near Anchorage and Nome, while Fairbanks and Utqiaƒ°vik (Barrow) show no significant trend.


Lader, R., J. E. Walsh, U. S. Bhatt, and P. A. Bieniek.. 2019. Anticipated changes to the snow season in Alaska: Elevation dependency, timing and extremes.. International Journal of Climatology. 40(1): 169-187. DOI: 10.1002/joc.6201.