The role of airmass types and surface energy fluxes in snow cover ablation in the central Appalachians

Daniel J. Leathers, Daniel Graybeal, Thomas Mote, Andrew Grundstein, David Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


A one-dimensional snowpack model, a unique airmass identification scheme, and surface weather observations are used to investigate large ablation events in the central Appalachian Mountains of North America. Data from cooperative observing stations are used to identify large ablation events within a 1° latitude × 1° longitude grid box that covers the majority of the Lycoming Creek basin in northern Pennsylvania. All 1-day ablation events greater than or equal to 7.6 cm (3 in.) are identified for the period of 1950 through 2001. Seventy-one events are identified, and these days are matched with a daily airmass type derived using the Spatial Synoptic Classification technique. Average meteorological characteristics on ablation days of each airmass type are calculated in an effort to understand the diverse meteorological influences that led to the large ablation events. A one-dimensional mass and energy balance snowpack model (" SNTHERM") is used to calculate surface/atmosphere energy fluxes responsible for ablation under each airmass type. Results indicate that large ablation events take place under diverse airmass/synoptic conditions in the central Appalachians. Five airmass types account for the 71 large ablation events over the 52-yr period. Forty-three of the events occurred under "moist" airmass types and 28 under " dry" airmass conditions. Large ablation events under dry airmass types are driven primarily by daytime net radiation receipt, especially net solar radiation. These events tend to occur early and late in the snow cover season when solar radiation receipt is highest and are characterized by relatively clear skies, warm daytime temperatures, and low dewpoint temperatures. Moist airmass types are characterized by cloudy, windy conditions with higher dewpoint temperatures and often with liquid precipitation. During these events sensible heat flux is most often the dominant energy flux to the snowpack during ablation episodes. However, in many cases there is also a significant input of energy to the snowpack associated with condensation. Combinations of high sensible and latent heat fluxes often result in extreme ablation episodes, similar to those witnessed in this area in January 1996.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1887-1898
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of airmass types and surface energy fluxes in snow cover ablation in the central Appalachians'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this