In the mountainous regions of the Upper Colorado River Basin, snow course observations give local measurements of snow water equivalent, which can be used to estimate regional averages of snow conditions. We develop a statistical technique to estimate the mesoscale average snow accumulation, using 8 years of snow course observations. For each of three major snow accumulation regions in the Upper Colorado River Basin – the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Colorado, the Uinta Mountains, Utah, and the Wind River Range, Wyoming – the snow course observations yield a correlation length scale of 38 km, 46 km, and 116 km respectively. This is the scale for which the snow course data at different sites are correlated with 70 per cent correlation. This correlation of snow accumulation over large distances allows for the estimation of the snow water equivalent on a mesoscale basis. With the snow course data binned into 1/4° latitude by 1/4° longitude pixels, an error analysis shows the following: for no snow course data in a given pixel, the uncertainty in the water equivalent estimate reaches 50 cm; that is, the climatological variability. However, as the number of snow courses in a pixel increases the uncertainty decreases, and approaches 5-10 cm when there are five snow courses in a pixel.

Author notes


Affiliated University of Puget Sound.