Articles | Volume 18, issue 7
Research article
24 Jul 2014
Research article |  | 24 Jul 2014

Large-scale analysis of changing frequencies of rain-on-snow events with flood-generation potential

D. Freudiger, I. Kohn, K. Stahl, and M. Weiler

Abstract. In January 2011 a rain-on-snow (RoS) event caused floods in the major river basins in central Europe, i.e. the Rhine, Danube, Weser, Elbe, Oder, and Ems. This event prompted the questions of how to define a RoS event and whether those events have become more frequent. Based on the flood of January 2011 and on other known events of the past, threshold values for potentially flood-generating RoS events were determined. Consequently events with rainfall of at least 3 mm on a snowpack of at least 10 mm snow water equivalent (SWE) and for which the sum of rainfall and snowmelt contains a minimum of 20% snowmelt were analysed. RoS events were estimated for the time period 1950–2011 and for the entire study area based on a temperature index snow model driven with a European-scale gridded data set of daily climate (E-OBS data). Frequencies and magnitudes of the modelled events differ depending on the elevation range. When distinguishing alpine, upland, and lowland basins, we found that upland basins are most influenced by RoS events. Overall, the frequency of rainfall increased during winter, while the frequency of snowfall decreased during spring. A decrease in the frequency of RoS events from April to May has been observed in all upland basins since 1990. In contrast, the results suggest an increasing trend in the magnitude and frequency of RoS days in January and February for most of the lowland and upland basins. These results suggest that the flood hazard from RoS events in the early winter season has increased in the medium-elevation mountain ranges of central Europe, especially in the Rhine, Weser, and Elbe river basins.