Declining North American snow cover ablation frequency

Zachary J. Suriano, Daniel J. Leathers, Thomas L. Mote, Gina R. Henderson, Thomas W. Estilow, Lori J. Wachowicz, David A. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


At a continental scale, trends in aggregate ablation frequency inform changes in snow cover extent, however the variability and trends in the frequency and magnitude of snow ablation events at regional scales are less well understood. Determining such variability is critical in describing regional hydroclimate, where snow ablation can influence streamflow, soil moisture and groundwater supplies. This study uses a gridded dataset of United States and Canadian snow ablation events derived from 1960 to 2009 surface observations to examine spatial and temporal variations of snow ablation frequency. Here, we show a relatively narrow band of peak ablation frequency seasonally advances and recedes over North America, forced by variations in snow depth and meteorological conditions suitable for ablation. Particularly in more moist regions away from the continent's interior, hydrologically relevant ablation events of at least 10.0 cm occur on an approximately yearly basis. Collectively, ablation events became significantly less frequent with time, where events specifically in the Appalachians and in Great Lakes regions declined by as much as 75% over the 50-year period. Decreases in ablation frequency across the study region are primarily driven by significant decreases in snow cover, inhibiting the potential for ablation to occur due to a lack of sufficiently deep snowpacks. These results point to important snow cover related changes in the hydrologic cycle in a warming climate and highlight specific areas of interest where more localized analysis of ablation trends and forcing mechanisms would be appropriate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5213-5225
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Climatology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Appalachians
  • climate change
  • snow hydrology
  • snow season
  • snowfall
  • snowmelt


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