Are Snow Resources on the Northern Plains and Prairies Dwindling?

TitleAre Snow Resources on the Northern Plains and Prairies Dwindling?
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Conference2003
AuthorsSteppuhn, H., Cutforth H. W., Judiesch D., and Wall K. G.
Conference Name71st Annual Western Snow Conference
Series TitleProceedings of the 71st Annual Western Snow Conference
Date PublishedApril 2003
PublisherWestern Snow Conference
Conference LocationScottsdale, Arizona
KeywordsSwift Current, Saskatchewan, snowfall, temperature, prairie, declining water supply

Snow across the Northern Great Plains and Canadian Prairies constitutes a very essential natural resource. A study to determine if northern snow resources have changed in magnitude over the last forty years was initiated. Snow-course data measured in non-irrigated agricultural fields, near Swift Current, Saskatchewan, reflect the large year-to-year and within-year variability typical of wind-swept plains. This variability rendered direct measurement and detection of snow-resource change difficult. However, analyses of a combined set of daily climatological data (Nipher-shielded snowfall water-equivalent and depth of snow-on-the-ground) at Swift Current show a significant reduction within the last twenty years in the frequency of the number of days with snowcover depths exceeding 10 cm. This reduction was accompanied by a 3.6% increase in winter rainfall, a 17.2% decrease in snowfall, and a 48% decrease in the theoretical snowpack water equivalent. Average daily maximum temperature increased by almost 2 oC between the same early and recent decades. If the change in temperature increased snowpack losses by -34.4% and the conversion of snowfall to rainfall by 13.6%, then snow resources on the northern plains and prairies have diminished by 48%. Extrapolating these data throughout the region, one may conclude that snowcovers on the northern plains and prairies are indeed dwindling.