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Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)

Published online in Wiley InterScience
( DOI: 10.1002/met.40

Predicting snow density using meteorological data
Vivian Melysund,a,b *Bernt Leira,c Karl V. Hisethb and Kim Robert Lisa,d
a SINTEF Building and Infrastructure, PO Box 124, Blindern, NO-0314 Oslo, Norway
b Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Department of Structural Engineering, NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway
c NTNU, Department of Marine Technology, NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway
d NTNU, Department of Civil and Transport Engineering, NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway

ABSTRACT: This paper presents a simple method for predicting snow density by use of weather data. Six hundred and
eight snow density (bulk weight density) measurements from the period 19671986 are used in a multiple regression
analysis. The measurements are performed at 105 sites in the As area situated in Akershus County in southeast Norway.
The area has a relatively stable winter climate. Weather data from an observing station with three registrations a day are
used in the analyses. The distance between the measurement sites and the meteorological station varied between 0.6 and
14 km. A clear correlation is found between the observed climate and the measured snow density. A multiple regression
equation is developed with a coefficient of determination equal to 70% and a standard deviation equal to 24 kgm3 . Snow
density values suggested in the Norwegian code NS 3491-3 is in most cases overestimated. Expressions given in an annex
to the international regulations for snow loading on roofs (ISO 4355) are less applicable to prescribing snow density
for climate studied in this investigation. Still, they can be used as simple and rough estimates. Copyright 2007 Royal
Meteorological Society

KEY WORDS buildings; density measurements; Norway; meteorological data; snow; snow loads; structural design
Received 26 October 2006; Revised 31 August 2007; Accepted 26 September 2007

1. Introduction combination with more advanced calculation methods,

should be used to improve the national maps for snow
1.1. Principal objectives and scope
load on the ground. This will require detailed informa-
The principal objective of the current paper is to describe tion of snow density depending on geographical loca-
a methodology for the prediction of snow density (bulk tion and climate during the period of snow accumula-
weight density) by means of weather data. In Norway, the tion.
snow depth is measured at 540 meteorological stations Advanced calculation models that have been developed
during winter, typically by the use of a yardstick. The in geophysics and hydrology can be used to calculate
associated snow load, on the ground, is then calculated by snow density and the associated loading with a higher
means of a simple assumption of snow density (Table I). degree of accuracy than the method proposed in this paper
Snow loads on ground are used as a basis to estimate (for instance, multi-layered models; Loth and Graf, 1998;
snow loads on roofs, according to the Norwegian code Xue et al., 2003). The use of advanced models demands
NS 3491-3 Design of structures - Design actions - Part a thorough knowledge of the weather and geophysical
3: Snow loads (Standards Norway, 2001). The code processes in order to calculate realistic time series of
contains the recommended values for snow load on the snow loads during the winter season. The objective of
ground for all municipalities in the country. the current study is to develop a method for predict-
Because of the extreme differences in local climate ing characteristic snow density based on simple weather
and topography, a large variation in snow loads on the parameters. The method should provide sufficiently accu-
ground can be observed within short distances in Norway. rate results for structural engineering purposes, without
NS 3491-3 does not take this variability into account. the use of advanced software.
As a result, many buildings are designed with a doubt- Scenarios for future climate change indicate both
ful estimation of characteristic snow load on the ground. increased winter precipitation and increased temperatures
Adequate equipment for surveillance of snow depths, in (McCarthy et al., 2001; Karl and Trenberth, 2003; reg-; Benestad, 2005). A realistic estimation of
characteristic loads is, therefore, even more important
* Correspondence to: Vivian Melysund, SINTEF Building and Infras-
tructure, PO Box 124, Blindern, NO-0314 Oslo, Norway. than before. In addition, predicting snow density by use
E-mail: of weather data makes it possible to evaluate also the

Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society


Table I. Bulk weight density of snow according to EN 1991-1-3 previously published and were included in his work
and NS 3491-3 (settled snow is measured several hours or days related to shape coefficients for roof snow loads (Hib,
after its fall; old snow several weeks or months after its fall). 1988). The work of Hib supported the changes in
shape coefficients for pitched roofs given in EN 1991-1-1
Type of Bulk weight Eurocode 1 Actions on structures Part 13: General
snow density (kg m3 )
actions Snow loads (European Committee for Stan-
Fresh 100 dardization, 2003), on which the equivalent Norwegian
Settled 200 code NS 3491-3 (Standards Norway, 2001) is based.
Old 250350
Wet 400 1.2. Background
If the temperature during snowfall is well below the freez-
effects of climate changes with respect to roof snow loads ing point, the snow typically has a rather low density.
in different parts of the country. Snow falling at higher temperatures usually has a consid-
The focus on climate has increased the interest in mete- erably higher density. After a snowfall, metamorphism,
orological monitoring that should be used for predicting compaction and wind action will increase the density.
snow loads. The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy The process when water condenses in the cold outer
Directorate (NVE) and the Norwegian Meteorological layer of the snow cover and causes snow crystals to grow
Institute, for instance, are developing geographic infor- is called temperature gradient metamorphism. Equitem-
mation system (GIS) based snow maps of snow water perature metamorphism is a result of local differences
equivalent (percentage of normal, millimetres and rank) in vapour pressure due to crystal geometry and causes
for Norway (Engeset et al., 2004). In their calculations, growth of ice bonds by sintering and strong cohesion
spatial estimation of temperature and precipitation is used between crystals. Gravitation forces compact the snow
in combination with observations from the Norwegian cover; i.e. the larger the depth, the higher the compaction.
meteorological network. A snow model with 1 1 km2 Strong winds will make snow crystals divide and the
and one-day resolution is used. Maps are produced daily snow cover becomes more densely packed. See Som-
and presented to users by web- and GIS-based interfaces. merfeld and LaChapelle (1970); Langham (1981) and
In addition, an archive of daily grid data from the winter Pomeroy et al. (1998) for further information on these
of 1962 is available ( processes.
In the Norwegian code, NS 3491-3, the snow load on The mean density of snow, as given in NS 3491-3 and
a roof, s (kg m2 ), is defined as: EN 1991-1-3 (European Committee for Standardization,
2003), is shown in Table I. The table shows that the time
s = Ce Ct sk (1) since snowfall has a major impact on the density. In
addition, the density of wet snow is given.
where sk (kg m2 ) is the snow load on the ground, In an informative annexe to ISO 4355 Bases for design
represents the snow load shape coefficient accounting for of structures Determination of snow loads on roofs
undrifted and drifted snow load arrangements depending (International Organization for Standardization, 1998),
on the roof shape, Ce is the exposure coefficient, which two alternative methods for calculating snow density are
concerns reduction or increase of snow load as a fraction proposed. These are based on formulae from the former
of ground snow load due to wind exposure and Ct is USSR and Japan. In the former USSR the following
the thermal coefficient defining the reduction of snow expression was used to calculate the density of snow,
load as a function of heat flux through the roof. An (kg m3 ):
equivalent expression can be found in ISO 4355 Bases
= (90 + 130 d)(1.5 + 0.17 T )(1 + 0.1 v)

for design of structures Determination of snow loads

on roofs (International Organization for Standardization,
where d is the snow depth (m), T is the mean temperature
1998). In NS 3491-3, snow loads on the ground (50-
( C) during the period of snow accumulation and is the
year return period) are specified for the centres of all 434
average wind velocity (ms1 ) in the same period. Another
municipalities in Norway. Rules are given for increasing
formula for the snow density (kg m3 ), which is derived
these values depending on the height of the ground above
from empirical investigations in Japan reads:
sea level at a building site compared with that of the

municipal centre. In particular cases, the code allows for =A d +B (3)
using other reliable sources to assess the ground snow
load, for instance, when the snow load has been measured where d is the snow depth (m). A and B are constants
near the building site for at least 20 years. influenced by the mean temperature of the snow zone
In this paper, snow density and snow depth measure- during the accumulation season.
ments performed by Professor Halvor Hib at the former ISO 4355 also describes a relationship between snow
Agricultural University of Norway (now the Norwegian load (50-year return period) and snow depth used in the
University of Life Sciences, UMB) during the period USA:
19661986 are used. These measurements have not been s50 = 1.91(d50 )1.33 (4)

Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)
DOI: 10.1002/met

where s50 is the snow load (kPa) on the ground and d50 Table II. Mean temperatures, mean wind velocities, total pre-
is the snow depth (m) on the ground, both with return cipitation amounts and maximum snow depths in January in
periods of 50 years. Equation (4) takes into account that the area of As for the measurement period 19671986 and the
the maximum ground snow load does not necessarily reference 30-year period 19611990.
occur on the same day as the maximum ground snow
Year Temperature Wind Precipitation Snow
depth (according to ISO 4355).
( C) velocity (mm) depth
In Pomeroy et al. (1998) recommendations are given (m s1 ) (cm)
with respect to density of new and aged snow. For
fresh snow, the expression developed by Hedstrom and 1968 7.7 1.6 33 63
Pomeroy (1998) is recommended: 1969 3.5 1.7 93 74
1970 8.2 1.3 24 28
s = 67.9 + 51.3eT /2.6 (5) 1971 2.6 1.4 56 3
1972 6.8 1.5 19 18
where T is the temperature ( C). For aged wind-blown 1977 5.0 1.6 70 51
snow covers with snow depths above 60 cm, Pomeroy 1978 2.3 2.0 54 47
et al. (1998) recommend an expression for the density 1980 7.6 1.3 24 34
1981 3.7 1.5 13 11
on the basis of investigations of Shook and Gray (1994)
1982 9.2 1.8 24 56
and Tabler et al. (1990): 1984 5.2 2.6 89 28
20 470 1985 9.6 1.4 41 40
s = 450 + (1 ed/67.3 ) (6) 1986 7.7 2.2 62 48
d 19611990 4.8 49
where s is the mean snow density (kg m3 ) and d is
snow depth (cm). For smaller snow depths, Pomeroy
et al. (1998) report a small covariance between depth and (Table III). No measurement was done in winters with
density (Shook and Gray, 1994). maximum snow loads on ground below approximately
40 kg m2 . Snow density measurements were done by
using a sharp-edged tube with internal cross-section of
2. Measurements 80 cm2 . The snow inside the tube was weighed and the
In the period 19661986, Professor Halvor Hib at density was calculated. Verification tests showed that the
UMB performed depth and density measurements of measurements were accurate within 1% (Hib, 1988).
snow on ground at 105 sites in the area of As (As is Weather observations and measurements are performed
situated in Akershus County in the southeast of Norway). by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute three times a
The distances between the measurement sites and the day [local time 0800, 1300 and 1900 {coordinated univer-
meteorological station in the area vary between 0.6 and sal time (UTC) +1}] at a meteorological station (climate
14 km. The area has a relatively stable winter climate weather station) in As. Air temperatures are measured
(moist mid-latitude climate with cold winters according 2 m above the ground with an accuracy of 0.1 C. In
to the Koppen Climate Classification System). The mean addition, minimum, maximum and mean temperatures
temperatures, mean wind velocities, total precipitation
amounts and maximum snow depths (as registered at the
meteorological station in the area) are given in Table II. Table III. Number of snow density measurements in each
In addition, the table contains monthly mean temperature measurement year.
and maximum precipitation amount for January in the
reference period 19611990. There are large variations Winter No. of
in maximum snow depths, precipitation amounts and season measurements
mean temperatures for winter seasons. Owing to the hilly
19671968 100
topography in the As area, both precipitation amounts and
19681969 115
wind velocities may have large local variations. Large 19691970 150
weather systems from the south-east and the simultaneous 19701971 6
low atmospheric pressure often result in snowfall and 19711972 35
wind in this area. The highest wind velocities are 19761977 70
normally in the north-west direction, but these are seldom 19771978 53
accompanied by snowfall (Nordli, 2000). 19791980 10
The measurements of Hib were carried out at the 19801981 3
time of maximum snow depths. The registrations were 19811982 29
not done at exactly the same time every year; however, 19831984 6
most of the data were usually collected in mid-February 19841985 13
19851986 18
(earliest measurement in week no. 3 and latest in week
Sum 608
no. 12). A total of 608 measurements were carried out

Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)
DOI: 10.1002/met

between the observations are registered at the meteo- more to the total value of the parameters than the climate
rological station. At each observation time, the 10-min during small snowfalls.
mean wind velocity, v, is measured 10 m above the 
ground, together with the average wind direction. As vsnow = Psnow vprec (8)
shown in Section 3, the wind velocities (three observa- t

tions a day) are used to calculate mean wind velocities RHsnow = Psnow RH (9)
for the snow cover. Precipitation (mm water equivalent) t
is measured once a day (local time 0800, UTC + 1).
The accuracy of the precipitation measurements (e.g. due where Psnow is the amount of precipitation as snow
to catchment errors) is not evaluated. Relative humid- (in mm water equivalent), t is the age of the snow
ity (RH) and air pressure, p, are measured three times cover (total number of observations) and RH is the
per day. Air pressure was measured with an accuracy of relative air humidity (in %). vprec is the mean wind
0.1 hPa. Snow depth, d, was measured by use of a yard- velocity in the observation period (in m s1 ) when it is
stick once per day (local time 0800, UTC + 1). This is simultaneously snowing. The threshold temperature for
a measure of the accumulated snow depth (not only pre- whether the precipitation falls as rain or snow is set to
cipitation as snow since last measurement). The weather 1.4 C, according to Skaugen (1998).
at the observation time and between observations is also Between snowfalls many climate parameters influence
registered three times per day. The meteorological data the density of the snow. At high wind velocities snow
are obtained from particles are drifting: fdrift is defined as the number of
times the wind velocity, v, has exceeded 4 m s1 and the
snow is in such a condition that it may drift:
3. Analyses
fdrift = f (v > 4 m s1 ) (10)
Multiple regression analyses are suitable in order to
predict snow density by use of weather data. The analyses where f is the number, or frequency, of wind velocities,
are based on a function of the following type: v, above the limit (10 min wind velocity recorded three
times per day). The parameter, vmean , represents the mean
y = 0 + 1 x1 + 2 x2 + . . . . + k xk (7) velocity for each snow cover:
where y is the response, in this case snow density. xk are 1
the predictors and k are the regression coefficients. A vmean = v (11)
t t
regression analysis examines the relation of the response
to the predictors. The selected predictors in the analysis where v is the 10 min mean wind velocity (in m s1 ,
are parameters assumed to be of importance for determin- recorded three times per day) and t is the age of the
ing the response. The analysis searches for the combi- snow cover (total number of observations).
nation of predictors xk (including regression coefficients tsun represents the amount of solar energy absorbed by
k ) resulting in a response, y, with a high coefficient the snow cover:
of determination, R 2 . The coefficient of determination 
is the proportion of variability in the data set that is tsun = s (1 a) (12)
accounted for by the statistical model. For a good model, t
R 2 should be close to unity. The parameters investigated
as predictors in this study are those expected to be of The parameter s is the daily sun hours, and the albedo,
significance, considering knowledge from the literature a, accounts for the amount of radiation reflected by the
and the authors own experience from earlier investiga- snow cover. The variation of albedo with summation of
tions. The analyses are performed by use of the statistical daily maximum temperatures since the last snowfall is
software program MINITAB. found in Harstveit (1984), referring to U.S. Army Corps
For the parameters representing the frequency, or sum, of Engineers (1956).
of a specific observation, the values reflect the diurnal In order to describe the effects of high air temperatures,
number of observations at the meteorological station. At two parameters are defined. Theat is calculated by summa-
the station in As, there are three observations per day. If rizing the observed temperatures, T , above the freezing
a snow cover has an age, t, of 120, it means that there point in the accumulation period:
have been 120 observations since the snow cover was 
established. Hence, the age of the snow cover is 40 days. Theat = T when T > 0 C (13)
Two parameters describe the climate during snow-
falls. vsnow is a measure of wind velocities during snow- where T is the observed air temperature (in C, obser-
falls, while RHsnow summarizes the observed relative air vations three times per day). The mean temperature for
humidity for all periods with snowfall. As seen in Equa- each snow cover is represented by Tmean :
tions (8) and (9), vsnow and RHsnow are scaled in order
to account for the amount of precipitation at each snow- 1
Tmean = T (14)
fall. Thus, the climate during large snowfalls contributes t t

Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)
DOI: 10.1002/met

where T is the observed temperature (in C, observations parameter, xk , there is no influence on the response, y,
three times per day) and t is the age of the snow cover (i.e. the coefficient k is equal to zero).
(total number of observations). If the p-value P is lower than the -level, the associ-
ptot summarizes the atmospheric pressures observed in ation between the response and predictor is statistically
the accumulation period of the snow cover: significant. The -level is the probability of rejecting the
 null hypothesis when the null hypothesis is really true,
ptot = p (15) i.e. finding a significant association when one does not
t really exist. The smaller the p-value, the smaller is the
probability for making a mistake by rejecting the null
where p is the observed atmospheric pressure (in hPa, hypothesis. If the p-value is higher than the -level, the
observations three times per day). Other parameters predictor may be excluded. A commonly used -level is
used in the analyses are the observed snow depth d 0.05 (corresponding to 95% confidence level).
(in cm) taking into account the effect of compaction, Evident correlation is found between the observed
the parameter t which is the age of the snow cover climate and the measured snow density. Equation (20)
(accounting for the effects of metamorphism) and Rp is the result of the regression analysis with the six
summarizing the total amount of precipitation as rain (in most significant parameters, i.e. the combination of six
mm) experienced by the snow cover: parameters from Equation (17) with highest coefficient
 of determination (R 2 ). The coefficient of determination
Rp = Prain (16) is 70% and the standard deviation is 24 kg m3 .
= 230 + 0.0167RHsnow + 2.23fdrift 1.84d
The snow density is finally expected to be a function
4.66 104 ptot + 2.4tsun 1.89Rp (20)
where is the snow density in kg m3 . The snow density
= f (X) where X = (d fdrift ptot vmean vsnow is an average for the whole snow layer. RHsnow (sum
Rp RHsnow t tsun Theat Tmean ) (17) of relative air humidity in percentage, see Equation (9))
describes the climate during snowfall. The parameters
ptot (sum of atmospheric pressure for the snow cover in
4. Results hPa, see Equation (15)), fdrift (number of times with wind
velocity above 4 m s1 and simultaneous snow able to
Multiple regression analyses are performed with the drift, see Equation (10)), tsun (a measure of the amount of
parameters in Equation (17). The standard error (SE ), t- sunlight absorbed by the snow cover, see Equation (12))
value (T ) and p-value (P ) of each regression coefficient and Rp (the amount of rain experienced by the snow cover
are calculated and used to exclude the least significant in milli metres, see Equation (16)) describe the climate
parameters. The standard error SE is defined as: in the whole accumulation period. In addition, the snow
 depth d (in centimetres) is an important parameter.
SE = (X X)1 s 2 (18) Measurements with standardized residuals (ratio of
the residuals, ei , to the standard error of estimate, Sy.x )
where s is the estimated standard deviation of the error above an absolute value of 3 are expected to be outliers
term in the regression model and X is the matrix of (statistical observation that is markedly different in value
predictors. from others in the sample). Twelve such outliers have
The t-value (T ) is defined as: been eliminated. The SE, t-value and p-value of each
regression coefficient are listed in Table IV.
k The parameters in the regression model interact, and
T = (19) it is difficult to show the effect of a single parameter
graphically. In Figure 1, the observed values for some
The t-value for a predictor can be used to test whether parameters are compared with the calculated values
the response is accurately predicted. The larger the using Equation (20) (solved with respect of the studied
absolute value of the t-value, the more likely it is that parameter and where the measured density is set as ).
the predictor is significant. As can be seen, there is some scatter.
If the model is overfitted, i.e. too many predictors Considering the physical interpretation of Equation
are included in the analysis in relation to the number (20), the constant of 230 can be seen as a start (or
of observations, a too high coefficient of determination, initial) density. The predictors of the regression equation
R 2 , can be achieved. A model with high R 2 may not be increase or decrease the density depending on the sign of
useful if there are no significant effects present. One way the regression coefficient. Parameters found to increase
to determine whether the observed relationship between the density are RHsnow , fdrift and tsun . Parameters found
the response and a specific predictor is significant is to decrease the density are d, ptot and Rp .
to test the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis (H0 ) Equation (20) clearly indicates that the snow density
is explicitly formulated here as follows: for a specific decreases with increasing sum of atmospheric pressure

Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)
DOI: 10.1002/met

Table IV. Regression coefficients with standard error of coefficient (SE coeff.); t-value, T (estimated coefficient divided on SE
coefficient); and p-value, P (probability of obtaining a test statistic that is at least as extreme as the actual calculated value, if
the null hypothesis is true). P < 0.05 means that the association between the response and predictor is statistically significant.
T = k SE 1 . The larger the absolute value of T , the more likely it is that the predictor, xk , is significant.

Predictor Coefficient Standar t-value p-value Stepwise coeff. of

xk k error SE T P determination R 2 (%)a

Constant 230 5.27 43.62 0.000

RHsnow 0.0167 5.64 104 29.55 0.000 33
fdrift 2.23 0.15 15.22 0.000 40
d 1.84 0.10 18.00 0.000 44
ptot 4.66 104 2.8 105 16.46 0.000 53
tsun 2.40 0.15 16.15 0.000 62
Rp 1.89 0.16 11.62 0.000 70

a Regression analysis where parameters are added one by one. The method adds the predictor that results in largest increase of R 2 .

Relative humidity RH_snow

Observed value (sum, %)



0 2000 4000 6000 8000 10000 12000 14000 16000 18000

Calculated value (all measurements summarized, in %)

Depth d
Observed value (cm)




0 20 40 60 80 100
Calculated value (cm)

Frequency of wind allowing snow drift f_drift

Observed value (no. of occ.)



-20 -10 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
Calculated value (no. of occurences)

Figure 1. Calculated values using the regression model (Equation (20)) versus the observed values. This figure is available in colour online at

ptot . High pressure in the winter season normally means cover with a lower value of RHsnow . These results are
cold weather, and no precipitation while low pressure consequently as expected.
normally means higher temperatures and precipitation. High wind velocities enable the snow to drift. Drift-
The sum of the atmospheric pressures over the whole ing snow gives smaller snow crystals and compaction of
accumulation period provides information on both mean the snow cover, and therefore the snow density increases.
temperatures and precipitation amounts. High tempera- A windswept snow cover is expected to be more densely
tures result in increased snow densities. Large precipita- packed than a less windswept snow cover. There is a ten-
tion amounts lead to compaction of the snow layer and dency towards increasing density with increasing snow-
increases the snow density. drift (fdrift ), as can be seen in Equation (20). Figure 1
A high sum of relative air humidity during snowfalls indicates that there may be a better description of this
(RHsnow ) may also indicate the temperature. A snow effect than a linear relationship, but the physical pro-
cover with a high value of RHsnow has experienced higher cesses are complex and it is hard to find a simple expres-
temperatures (and thereby more wet snow) than a snow sion that could give a better correlation.

Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)
DOI: 10.1002/met

One could expect higher average snow densities for These parameters are better predictors than temperature
large snow depths, due to compaction. This is also parameters alone because they also provide information
true when the influence of the snow depth is studied on other conditions. ptot , for instance, is a better predictor
separately, as can be seen in Figure 2. However, in than temperature parameters because it correlates with
Equation (20), where several effects are combined, the both temperatures and amount of precipitation.
regression coefficient for d has a negative sign, which The weather data are not in a continuous time series
means that large snow depths tend to decrease the and the measurements do not record all variations in
density. This tendency can also be seen in Figure 2 for the climate (hourly data are only available for a small
snow covers that have experienced a certain amount of number of meteorological stations in Norway). Local
temperatures above the freezing point. For large snow adjustments at each measurement site could be necessary
depths, the external climate influences the density to a when evaluating precipitation rates and effects of wind.
lesser degree than smaller snow depths. Only the upper
part of the snow cover is exposed, and for large snow
depths this area constitutes only a small part of the total 5. Discussion and further work
snow cover. Thus, the snow depth, d, can be seen as a Snow depth, mean wind and mean temperature are the
corrective term for the other external climate parameters. most important parameters in the expressions for snow
The analyses show that the density increases with density in ISO 4355(Equations (1)(3)). Combinations

increasing amount of solar radiation (tsun ). Solar radiation of these parameters ( d, 3 T mean and vmean ) are inves-
supplies energy and consequently increases the temper- tigated without achieving sufficient correlation. These
ature in the snow layer, which leads to compaction and results are not included in this paper. As can be seen in
increased snow density. The analyses also show that the Table IV, the parameter with highest coefficient of deter-
density decreases with increasing amount of precipitation mination (R 2 ) in a simple regression analysis, is RHsnow
as rain (Rp ). Snow cover may absorb rain, and the snows where R 2 equals 33%. If two parameters are combined in
density increases. Repeated rainfalls, on the other hand, a multiple regression analysis, the combination RHsnow
demolish the ice structure and reduce the snow covers and fdrift gives the highest coefficient of determination
ability to absorb water. As a result, the snow density (40%). In a simple regression analysis, the snow depth,
decreases. d, has a coefficient of determination equal to 5%.
The authors expected temperature parameters to be According to NS 3491-3, old snow (several weeks or
more significant than the predictors in Equation (20). The months after snowfall) has a density between 250 and
values of the parameters RHsnow , ptot , tsun and Rp depend 350 kg m3 (Table I). Of the measured snow densities
on the temperatures experienced by the snow cover. in this investigation, 64% are below 250 kg m3 and

Density (kgm-3)




20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Depth (cm)

Density (kgm-3)




20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Depth (cm)

Figure 2. Density as a function of snow depth. In the upper part of the figure black circles are measurements with values of Theat below 10, grey
squares are measurements with values of Theat between 10 and 75 while triangles are measurements with values of Theat above 75. This figure
is available in colour online at

Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)
DOI: 10.1002/met


Density (kg m-3) 300

250 250

200 200


0 50 100 150 200 250 300 350
Age (days x 3)

Figure 3. Measured densities versus age of snow cover. This figure is available in colour online at





0.6 0.9 1.2 1.5 1.8 2.1
Ratio calculated/measured value

Figure 4. Calculated densities using Equation (20) (95% fractile values) divided by measured values (fitted to a loglogistic distribution with
Loc = 0.1791 and Scale = 0.06194). This figure is available in colour online at

34% have values below 200 kg m3 (Figure 3). The Calculated 95% fractile values for the snow densities are
recommended values in NS 3491-3 overestimate the snow compared with the measured densities in Figure 4. Only
density in most cases. The snow covers in the current 5% of the calculated values are below measured values,
analyses have been accumulated gradually. Thus, the while for 44% of the calculations the ratio of calculated
bottom layer of the snow covers can be characterized as to measured value exceeds 1.2.
old while the top layer is fresh. The density equation When the calculations are done according to Equa-
suggested in NS 3491-3 is too conservative and does not tion (2), 26% of the calculated values are below the
properly deal with gradually accumulated snow covers. measured density values (Figure 5). The ratio of the
The calculated snow densities by use of Equation (20) calculated to measured value exceeds 1.2 for 39% of
represent mean values: 95% fractile values are achieved the calculated values. Compared to the analyses results,
by increasing the calculated snow densities by two Equation (2) is less accurate for prediction of snow den-
times the standard deviation of error (2 24 kg m3 ). sity, regarding the climate studied in this investigation.

Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)
DOI: 10.1002/met





0.6 0.9 1.2 1.5 1.8 2.1
Ratio calculated value/measured value

Figure 5. Calculated values according to Equation (2) divided by measured values (fitted to a loglogistic distribution with Loc = 0.1202 and
Scale = 0.1038). This figure is available in colour online at





0.6 0.9 1.2 1.5 1.8 2.1
Ratio calculated value/measured value

Figure 6. Calculated values according to Equation (4) divided by measured values (fitted to a loglogistic distribution with Loc = 0.3535 and
Scale = 0.1078). This figure is available in colour online at

This is because Equation (2) underestimates the snow The density measurements were done within a small
density in many cases. The equation is nevertheless useful area in Norway and combined with data from one meteo-
for simple and rough estimates. rological station. Further work should aim at investigating
When calculating snow density by use of Equation (4), the results in view of data from other parts of the country.
almost all (97%) calculated densities are below the mea- Possible measurement uncertainties in conjunction with
sured values (Figure 6). The equation is less applicable the used meteorological station could then be reduced.
for an occasional/arbitrary period in a climate as studied The capability of the proposed empirical formula to esti-
in this investigation. Equation (4) is meant to be used mate snow density in different climates would then also
for snow depths with a 50-year return period. A compar- be demonstrated.
ison between measured snow densities and calculations The current investigation will be used as input to ongo-
by use of Equations (2), (4) and (20) is summarized in ing studies within the Norwegian research and develop-
Table V. ment programme Climate 2000 (Lis et al., 2005). In

Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)
DOI: 10.1002/met

Table V. Comparison of measured snow density and calculated snow density (in kg m3 ) using Equations (2), (4) and (20) (95%
fractile values). Statistical data for the ratio calculated value/measured value.

Density Mean Standard No. of occurrences No. of occurrences Figure

equation deviation below 1.0 (%) above 1.2 (%) no.

Equation (2) 1.14 0.21 26 39 5

Equation (4) 0.71 0.14 97 1 6
Equation (20) (new method) 1.21 0.14 5 44 4

Climate 2000, the relationship between snow loads on to prescribe snow density for a climate as studied in this
roof and wind exposure is subjected to further investi- investigation. Still, they can be used as simple and rough
gations (Melysund et al., 2006, 2007). The significance estimates.
of the magnitude of roof snow load according to total
building costs will also be addressed. Will society profit
from a more detailed prediction of roof snow loads? The Acknowledgements
advantage of a built-in safety margin accounting for a This paper has been written as part of the ongoing
future change in wind exposure and climate will most SINTEF research and development programme Climate
likely be beneficial. 2000Building constructions in a more severe climate
In recent years, methods to refine the design process (20002007), strategic institute project Impact of cli-
with respect to snow load have been developed. However, mate change on the built environment. The authors grate-
advanced tools and data processing are required. These fully acknowledge all construction industry partners and
tools are often not available for structural engineers, and the Research Council of Norway. A special thanks to Pro-
high qualifications within meteorological and geophysical fessor emeritus Halvor Hib and Professor Egil Berge
processes are required. The risk that advanced methods at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) for
will be used in an unintended manner is therefore allowing use of their measurements, and to Dr Hans Olav
present. Further work should focus on developing tools Hygen (Norwegian Meteorological Institute) for valuable
for geographic differentiation of snow loads, including comments on the text.
local topography and climate variations.

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Copyright 2007 Royal Meteorological Society Meteorol. Appl. 14: 413423 (2007)
DOI: 10.1002/met