We use data gathered from Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) between 2008 and 2017 to investigate the temporal/spatial patterns of rain-on-snow events in three river basins of California’s Sierra Nevada. Rain-on-snow transitions occur across a broad elevation range (several hundred meters), both between storms and within a given storm, creating an opportunity to use spatially and temporally dense data to forecast and study them. WSNs collect snow depth; meteorological data; and soil moisture and temperature data across relatively dense sensor clusters. Ten to twelve measurement nodes per cluster are placed across 1-km2 areas in locations representative of snow patterns at larger scales. Combining precipitation and snow data from snow-pillow and climate stations with an estimation of dew-point temperature from WSNs, we determine the frequency, timing, and geographic extent of rain-on-snow events. We compare these results to WSN data to evaluate the impact of rain-on-snow events on snowpack energy balance, density, and depth as well as on soil moisture. Rain-on-snow events are compared to dry warm-weather days to identify the relative importance of rain and radiation as the primary energy input to the snowpack for snowmelt generation. An intercomparison of rain-on-snow events for the WSNs in the Feather, American, and Kings River basins captures the behavior across a 2° latitudinal range of the Sierra Nevada. Rain-on-snow events are potentially a more important streamflow generation mechanism in the lower-elevation Feather River basin. Snowmelt response to rain-on-snow events changes throughout the wet season, with later events resulting in more melt due to snow isothermal conditions, coarser grain size, and more-homogeneous snow stratigraphy. Regardless of snowmelt response, rain-on-snow events tend to result in decreasing snow depth and a corresponding increase in snow density. Our results demonstrate that strategically placed WSNs can provide the necessary data at high temporal resolution to investigate how hydrologic responses evolve in both space and time, data not available from operational networks.
Maurer, A.; Avanzi, F.; Oroza, C.; Malek, S.; Glaser, S.; Bales, R.; Conklin, M. (2017): Using wireless sensor networks to improve understanding of rain-on-snow events across the Sierra Nevada. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2017. Abstract C53B-1025..