Variability of Cloud Cover and Its Relation to Snowmelt and Runoff in the Mountainous Western United States

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Edwin Sumargo1, Daniel R Cayan1,2 and Sam Iacobellis1, (1)Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, United States, (2)U.S. Geological Survey, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, United States
Obtaining accurate solar radiation input to snowmelt runoff models remains a fundamental challenge for water supply forecasters in the mountainous western U.S. The variability of cloud cover is a primary source of uncertainty in estimating surface radiation, especially given that ground-based radiometer networks in mountain terrains are sparse. Thus, remote sensed cloud properties provide a way to extend in situ observations and more importantly, to understand cloud variability in montane environment. We utilize 17 years of NASA/NOAA GOES visible albedo product with 4 km spatial and half-hour temporal resolutions to investigate daytime cloud variability in the western U.S. at elevations above 800 m. REOF/PC analysis finds that the 5 leading modes account for about two-thirds of the total daily cloud albedo variability during the whole year (ALL) and snowmelt season (AMJJ). The AMJJ PCs are significantly correlated with de-seasonalized snowmelt derived from CDWR CDEC and NRCS SNOTEL SWE data and USGS stream discharge across the western conterminous states. The sum of R2 from 7 days prior to the day of snowmelt/discharge amounts to as much as ~52% on snowmelt and ~44% on discharge variation. Spatially, the correlation patterns take on broad footprints, with strongest signals in regions of highest REOF weightings. That the response of snowmelt and streamflow to cloud variation is spread across several days indicates the cumulative effect of cloud variation on the energy budget in mountain catchments.