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New PCIC Science Brief: Contrasting the Responses of Mean and Extreme Snowfall to Climate Change

PCIC is pleased to announce the release of our next Science Brief. PCIC Science Briefs are a regular series of brief reports on recent climate science literature, relevant to stakeholders in the Pacific and Yukon Region of Canada. PCIC has developed these briefs because we recognize the need for a bridge between the cutting edge of climate science research and the various stakeholders who need access to this knowledge, in plain-language reports, filtered for regional relevance, and suitable for consideration in planning and adaptation. The PCIC Science Briefs contextualize and explain the results and implications of important scientific findings.

This Science Brief covers an article in the journal Nature by P.A. O'Gorman (2014) that examines the differing responses of mean and extreme snowfall in climate change projections. The author finds that, warming causes a reduction in both daily snowfall and snowfall extremes, but that the decrease in the amount of snowfall during extreme events is smaller than the reduction in mean snowfall. Using a simple physical model, O'Gorman suggests that this is due to the balance between two competing effects caused by the warming: increasing moisture available for humidity and the decreases in the fraction of precipitation that falls as snow. This results in snowfall extremes occurring most often near an optimum temperature that will still be reached in the future, even for regions that are presently relatively warm. So, while mean snowfall decreases as the temperature warms enough that daily temperature variability is within reach of the melting point, extremes are less affected.

Read this Science Brief

O’Gorman, P.A., 2014: Contrasting responses of mean and extreme snowfall to climate change. Nature, 512, 416–418, doi:10.1038/nature13625.