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CR 32:187-199 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/cr032187

Swiss Alpine snow pack variability: major patterns and links to local climate and large-scale flow

Simon C. Scherrer1,2,*, Christof Appenzeller1

1Climate Services, Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology (MeteoSwiss), Krähbühlstrasse 58, Postfach 514, 8044 Zürich, Switzerland
2Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), 1850 Table Mesa Drive, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

ABSTRACT: The major patterns of interannual Swiss Alpine snow pack variability were determined and their relation to local and large-scale climate variability and recent trends was investigated. The snow variables considered were the seasonally averaged new snow sum, snow depth and snow days for winter (DJF) in the period 1958–1999. Three major patterns of large-scale snow variability were identified. The first pattern explains ~50% of total variance and extends over the entire area except the southernmost parts. The second pattern explains ~15% of total variance and has a dipole structure with a maximum on the northern and a strong minimum on the southern slope of the Alps. The third pattern (~10% of total variance) is height dependent with a strong maximum at lowland stations and a minimum at high stations. In contrast to the first and second pattern, the third pattern’s time component shows a distinct trend. It is well correlated with the 0°C isotherm which increased from ~600 m a.s.l. in the 1960s to ~900 m a.s.l. in the late 1990s and could be related to climate change. Variability in the first new snow sum pattern was primarily related to total precipitation anomalies. In contrast, variability in the first snow day pattern was primarily related to temperature anomalies. The dominance of precipitation for new snow sums and the dominance of temperature for snow days is physically consistent with the former being controlled by accumulation only and the latter by accumulation and ablation. The surface pressure anomaly pattern linked to the first new snow sum pattern is centred over southeastern Europe, resembling the Euro-Atlantic blocking pattern. For snow days the corresponding pressure anomaly is shifted further southeastward. The second snow pattern is mainly influenced by an East Atlantic like pattern, whereas only the third (height and temperature dependent) pattern is strongly linked to the North Atlantic Oscillation index.

KEY WORDS: Snow · Variability · Trends · Temperature · Precipitation · Large-scale flow · Alps · Switzerland

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