Heavy snow loads in Finnish forests respond regionally asymmetrically to projected climate change
Abstract. This study examined the impacts of projected climate change on heavy snow loads on Finnish forests, where snow-induced forest damage occurs frequently. For snow-load calculations, we used daily data from five global climate models under representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, statistically downscaled onto a high-resolution grid using a quantile-mapping method. Our results suggest that projected climate warming results in regionally asymmetric response on heavy snow loads in Finnish forests. In eastern and northern Finland, the annual maximum snow loads on tree crowns were projected to increase during the present century, as opposed to southern and western parts of the country. The change was rather similar both for heavy rime loads and wet snow loads, as well as for frozen snow loads. Only the heaviest dry snow loads were projected to decrease over almost the whole of Finland. Our results are aligned with previous snowfall projections, typically indicating increasing heavy snowfalls over the areas with mean temperature below −8 °C. In spite of some uncertainties related to our results, we conclude that the risk for snow-induced forest damage is likely to increase in the future in the eastern and northern parts of Finland, i.e. in the areas experiencing the coldest winters in the country. The increase is partly due to the increase in wet snow hazards but also due to more favourable conditions for rime accumulation in a future climate that is more humid but still cold enough.