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Name: Michael N.
Status: other
Age: 50s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 7/17/2003


Question:
Does an increase in humidity of the air increase the rate at which snow melts? Do you have any references on this?


Dear Michael-

Snow melt is a very complex process, with many factors affecting it. Relative humidity is only one, and certainly not the major factor. For snow to melt, heat energy must be supplied. There are many references on the Internet concerning snow melt. One of the best in my opinion, is the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. I have extracted the following from this link:

http://uregina.ca/~sauchyn/geog327/snow.html

energy budget of the melting snowpack
source of energy for snow melt
solar radiation (insolation)
sensible heat of the air
sensible of heat of rain
latent heat
soil heat

the relative importance of these energy sources is depends on

continuity of the snowpack
cloud cover
humidity
time of day and season

All these factors are explained in non-technical term in the referenced link. I suggest you visit that link and hopefully the answer to your question will be found there.

Wendell Bechtold, meteorologist
Forecaster, National Weather Service
Weather Forecast Office, St. Louis, MO


Michael,

When you say "humidity", I assume that you mean relative humidity. It is likely that higher relative humidities imply warmer temperatures, and thus a greater ability to melt snow.

Aside from this situation, a higher absolute humidity (amount of water vapor in the air) could enhance warming of the air from increased absorption of long wave radiation, thus enhancing melting.

The increase of relative humidity in and of itself would not directly increase the rate of snow melt, only indirectly as explained above.



David R. Cook
Atmospheric Research Section
Environmental Research Division


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