What Do you Think the Total Snow Accumulation in North America is in One Year? | New Study Discovers it’s Way More than Previously Thought

Steven Agar | | Industry NewsIndustry News
The Canadian Rockies hold more snow than 10 other North American mountain ranges combined. Photo: Kicking Horse Facebook

A first-of-its-kind study recently revealed that the accumulation of snow up in the mountains of North America is way more than anyone anticipated.

The revelation has forced scientists to revise previous estimates of snow volume for the entire continent, and they’ve discovered that snow accumulation in a typical year is 50 percent higher than previously thought.

If spread evenly across the surface of the continent from Canada to Mexico, the yearly estimate of about 1,200 cubic miles of snow accumulation would measure a little over 7.5 inches deep. If confined to Ohio, it would bury the state under 150 feet of snow.

Not surprisingly, most of the snow accumulates atop the Canadian Rockies and 10 other mountain ranges. And while these mountains compose only a quarter of the continent’s land area, they hold 60 percent of the snow, the researchers determined.
Copper Mountain, accumulation
Big mountains of the Colorado Rockies. Credit: Copper Mountain

The research represents an important step toward understanding the true extent of fresh water sources on the continent, explained doctoral student Melissa Wrzesien, lead author on the paper.

“Our big result was that there’s a lot more snow in the mountains than we previously thought,” she said. “That suggests that mountain snow plays a much larger role in the continental water budget than we knew.”

It’s currently impossible to directly measure how much water is on the planet, said Michael Durand, associate professor of earth sciences at Ohio State. “It’s extremely important to know-not just so we can make estimates of available fresh water, but also because we don’t fully understand Earth’s water cycle.”


Previous estimates pegged the accumulation at a little more than 750 cubic miles of snow each year.

And while previous estimates placed one-third of North American snow accumulation in the mountains and two-thirds on the plains, the exact opposite turned out to be true. Around 60 percent of North American snow accumulation happens in the mountains, with the Canadian Rockies holding as much snow as the other 10 mountain ranges in the study combined.

“Each of these ranges is a huge part of the climate system,” Durand said, “but I don’t think we realized how important the Canadian Rockies really are. We hope that by drawing attention to the importance of the mountains, this work will help spur development in understanding how mountains fit into the large-scale picture.”

For the full article, and way more information on this fascinating study, head to scienmag.com.

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