Investigating the Role of Snow Water Equivalent on Streamflow Predictability during Drought
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Investigating the Role of Snow Water Equivalent on Streamflow Predictability during Drought

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  • Journal Title:
    Journal of Hydrometeorology
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    Snowpack provides the majority of predictive information for water supply forecasts (WSFs) in snow-dominated basins across the western United States. Drought conditions typically accompany decreased snowpack and lowered runoff efficiency, negatively impacting WSFs. Here, we investigate the relationship between snow water equivalent (SWE) and April–July streamflow volume (AMJJ-V) during drought in small headwater catchments, using observations from 31 USGS streamflow gauges and 54 SNOTEL stations. A linear regression approach is used to evaluate forecast skill under different historical climatologies used for model fitting, as well as with different forecast dates. Experiments are constructed in which extreme hydrological drought years are withheld from model training, that is, years with AMJJ-V below the 15th percentile. Subsets of the remaining years are used for model fitting to understand how the climatology of different training subsets impacts forecasts of extreme drought years. We generally report overprediction in drought years. However, training the forecast model on drier years, that is, below-median years (P15, P57.5], minimizes residuals by an average of 10% in drought year forecasts, relative to a baseline case, with the highest median skill obtained in mid- to late April for colder regions. We report similar findings using a modified National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) procedure in nine large Upper Colorado River basin (UCRB) basins, highlighting the importance of the snowpack–streamflow relationship in streamflow predictability. We propose an “adaptive sampling” approach of dynamically selecting training years based on antecedent SWE conditions, showing error reductions of up to 20% in historical drought years relative to the period of record. These alternate training protocols provide opportunities for addressing the challenges of future drought risk to water supply planning. Significance Statement Seasonal water supply forecasts based on the relationship between peak snowpack and water supply exhibit unique errors in drought years due to low snow and streamflow variability, presenting a major challenge for water supply prediction. Here, we assess the reliability of snow-based streamflow predictability in drought years using a fixed forecast date or fixed model training period. We critically evaluate different training protocols that evaluate predictive performance and identify sources of error during historical drought years. We also propose and test an “adaptive sampling” application that dynamically selects training years based on antecedent SWE conditions providing to overcome persistent errors and provide new insights and strategies for snow-guided forecasts.
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  • Source:
    Journal of Hydrometeorology, 23(10), 1607-1625
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    1525-755X;1525-7541;
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