Revisiting the Degree-Day Methood for Snowmelt Computations

TitleRevisiting the Degree-Day Methood for Snowmelt Computations
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1995
AuthorsRango A., Martinec J.
JournalWater Resources Bulletin
Start Page657
Date Published08/1995

The simple, empirical degree-day approach for calculating snowmelt and runoff from mountain basins has been in use for more than 60 years. It is frequently suggested that the degree-day method be replaced by the more physically-based energy balance approach. The degree-day approach, however, maintains its popularity, applicability, and effectiveness. It is shown that the degree-day method is reliable for computing total snowmelt depths for periods of a week to the entire snowmelt season. It can also be used for daily snowmelt depths when utilized in connection with an adequate snowmelt runoff model for computing the basin runoff. The degree-day ratio is shown to vary seasonally as opposed to being constant as is often assumed. Additionally, in order to evaluate the degree-day ratio correctly; the changing snow cover extent in a basin during the snowmelt season must be taken into account. It is possible to combine the degree-day approach with a radiation component so that short time interval (<24 hours) computations of snowmelt depth can be made. When snowmelt input is transformed to basin output (runoff) by a snowmelt runoff model, there is little difference between the degree-day approach and a radiation based approach. This is fortuitous because the physically-based energy balance models will not soon displace the degree-day methods because of their excessive data requirements.