Evaluation of remotely sensed snow water equivalent and snow cover extent over the contiguous United States

Nicholas Dawson, Patrick Broxton, Xubin Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Global snow water equivalent (SWE) products derived at least in part from satellite remote sensing are widely used in weather, climate, and hydrometeorological studies. Here we evaluate three such products using our recently developed daily 4-km SWE dataset available from October 1981 to September 2017 over the conterminous United States. This SWE dataset is based on gridded precipitation and temperature data and thousands of in situ measurements of SWE and snow depth. It has a 0.98 correlation and 30% relative mean absolute deviation with Airborne Snow Observatory data and effectively bridges the gap between small-scale lidar surveys and large-scale remotely sensed data. We find that SWE products using remote sensing data have large differences (e.g., the mean absolute difference from our SWE data ranges from 45.8% to 59.3% of the mean SWE in our data), especially in forested areas (where this percentage increases up to 73.5%). Furthermore, they consistently underestimate average maximum SWE values and produce worse SWE (including spurious jumps) during snowmelt. Three additional higher-resolution satellite snow cover extent (SCE) products are used to compare the SCE values derived from these SWE products. There is an overall close agreement between these satellite SCE products and SCE generated from our SWE data, providing confidence in our consistent SWE, snow depth, and SCE products based on gridded climate and station data. This agreement is also stronger than that between satellite SCE and those derived from the three satellite SWE products, further confirming the deficiencies of the SWE products that utilize remote sensing data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1777-1791
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Remote sensing
  • Snow
  • Snow cover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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