Water News: Rising Humidity with Rising Heat, Snowpack Melting Patterns Shifting with Both

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 23 January 2018


Water News
Rising Humidity with Rising Heat

Snowpack Melting Patterns Shifting with Both

Climate change and snowmelt -- turn up the heat, but what about humidity?
University of Utah, January 22, 2018.

"...changes in humidity may determine how the contribution of snowpack to streams, lakes and groundwater changes as the climate warms."

Factors Affecting Snow Melting Behavior

"...there are various forms of energy, including sensible heat (which we measure as temperature), radiant energy (like what we feel from the sun), and latent heat."

Snow Self-Cooling Mechanisms

"...snow crystals reflecting incoming solar radiation. This minimizes energy input to the snow, and also leads to the sunburn so common when skiing on sunny winter days. The molecular structure of snow crystals also emits energy back into the sky on clear nights – which serves to cool the snowpack. Also, snow on dry days can “sublimate,” or change directly from a solid to vapor. This process, just like evaporation, absorbs heat and further cools the snow."

Snow Warming Mechanisms

"Cloudy, humid days reverse the cooling from both radiation and sublimation – cloud cover prevents snow from emitting energy, and condensation of water vapor on the snow releases latent heat, warming the snow. That is why a couple of humid days with temperatures right around freezing result in large melt events and even minor flooding. An extreme case of this can come on foggy days, Brooks says. “We often say ‘fog eats snow.’”

Effect on Nature

“We found that relative humidity generally has been both increasing in the Pacific Northwest and decreasing in the desert southwest over the last 30 years, reinforcing the patterns of winter melt in the Pacific Northwest and sublimation in the southwest.”

Human Implications

"If humidity increases, water managers may be faced with the challenge of storing water for longer periods while mitigating mid-winter flooding. In contrast, a decrease in humidity will further stress already limited water supplies.

“Long-term planning for reservoirs, water storage and water supply systems is also key for water managers,” Harpold says. “For example, in the Sierra and Lake Tahoe you may see a yearly pattern of humid air masses moving over the region, so plans should be made with these regional patterns in mind.

“As we reach a tipping point and see our customary water storage system, the snowpack, melting more and earlier in the winter, systems that rely on snowmelt will need to be reevaluated and modified.”


Let's review the situation our unlimited, irresponsible growth has already created:


Aguifers Disappearing

Groundwater Changing in the American West 

Looking Clearly at the Implications of the Latest Groundwater Research


Groundwater Double-Wammy



The Seasons Continue to Change

Incomplete drought recovery may be the new normal,



The Bottom Line

Our Current Water-Growth Plans

"Uncertainty High," and that our Water Availability Plans are likely "substantially wrong."





2018 Oceans, Fish, Water, & Ice News




January 2018 News of Man & Nature




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