Historic streamflow records show that the onset of snowfed streamflow in the western United States has shifted earlier over the past 50 yr, and March 2004 was one of the earliest onsets on record. Record high temperatures occurred throughout the western United States during the second week of March, and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream gauges throughout the area recorded early onsets of streamflow at this time. However, a set of nested subbasins in Yosemite National Park, California, told a more complicated story. In spite of high air temperatures, many streams draining high-elevation basins did not start flowing until later in the spring. Temperatures during early March 2004 were as high as temperatures in late March 2002, when streams at all of the monitored Yosemite basins began flowing at the same time. However, the March 2004 onset occurred before the spring equinox, when the sun was lower in the sky. Thus, shading and solar radiation differences played a much more important role in 2004, leading to differences in streamflow timing. These results suggest that as temperatures warm and spring melt shifts earlier in the season, topographic effects will play an even more important role than at present in determining snowmelt timing. ?? 2006 American Meteorological Society.
Additional publication details
Onset of snowmelt and streamflow in 2004 in the Western Unites States: How shading may affect spring streamflow timing in a warmer world