The Need for Modernized Operational Snow Models: A Tale of Two Years

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 9:00 AM
Adam H Winstral, USDA-ARS, Boise, ID, United States and Danny G Marks, USDA Agriculture Research Serv, Boise, ID, United States
The Boise River Basin in southwest Idaho, USA contains three major reservoirs totaling nearly 1,000,000 acre-feet of storage capacity. The primary goals for water managers are water supply and flood protection. In terms of observed SWE at monitoring sites throughout the basin, water years 2012 and 2014 were similar and near normal. In WY 2014 inflows into the BRB reservoir system followed historic patterns and reservoir releases were ideally controlled for management goals. WY2012 however was warmer than average and the winter snowpack had uncharacteristically high melt susceptibility. Subsequent energy fluxes produced late winter inflows much higher than normally encountered. The uncharacteristic flow patterns and inability of traditional operational modeling tools to handle this situation challenged water managers. Through late March and early April 2012 near flood stage flows were pushed through the city of Boise in order to increase storage and prevent more catastrophic flooding. While in this case a greater catastrophe was narrowly averted, the shortcomings of the traditional modeling approaches taken by operational agencies were exposed. “Uncharacteristic” events such as these are becoming more and more frequent as the effects of climate change are realized. The need for modernized methods – ones based on the physical controlling processes rather than historic patterns – is imperative. This presentation outlines the latest developments in the application of a physically-based, high-resolution spatial snow model to aid operational water management decisions.