Forecasts can generally predict how much precipitation an area may have several months in advance, but when it comes to specifically predicting snowfall, we’re more in the dark. However, a new model may offer more advanced warning when it comes to the white stuff.
The model was originally developed to predict hurricanes, but because hurricanes rely on so many different temperamental weather factors, the model actually helped researchers predict snowfall as well, Popular Science reported. As a result, possible mountain snowpack in the western U.S. can be forecast as far as eight months before it actually happens, according to an analysis published in PNAS.
The method involves modeling a year’s worth of weather information for the entire Earth’s climate. The team then incorporates data, such as water in the soil, salinity of the ocean, temperature of the sea surface, and even wind speed to create a prediction for weather over the course of a year. This prediction model was then recreated 10-12 times, each with slightly different predictions. When these predictions began to overlap in patterns, the team used these patterns as an indication of future weather, specifically a seasonal snow forecast.
According to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, climate predictions are not necessarily new science and we currently use them to understand and predict the atmosphere, ocean and weather.
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But the new, extended snow predictions could play an important role in estimating future water supplies for certain areas. For example, according to the study, in the Western U.S., 80 percent of snowmelt runoff is used for agriculture. Predicting the snowfall in advance will help these areas better prepare for possible water shortages ahead.
The snow prediction model is still in its rudimentary stages and at the moment it’s easier to predict the overall average for a large area, like the entire West Coast, rather than for a smaller location.
The prediction method is also currently restricted to certain areas in the Western U.S., although one of the researchers involved, Sarah Kapnick, a Research Physical Scientist in the Climate Variations and Predictability Group at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory expressed her interest to Popular Science in taking the technology to the East Coast U.S. as well.