Geographical distributions of heavy snowfall, especially in the Pacific Ocean side of Japan, have not been previously elucidated due to low occurrence frequency of heavy snowfall and limited number of snow observation points. This study investigates the characteristics of synoptic conditions for heavy daily snowfall from western to northeastern Japan in the present climate, analyzing high-resolution regional climate ensemble experiments with 5-km grid spacing. The Japanese 55-year Reanalysis (JRA-55) and the 10-ensemble members of the database for Policy Decision making for Future climate change (d4PDF) historical experiments are applied to the lateral boundary conditions of the regional climate model. Dynamical downscaling using d4PDF (d4PDF-DS) enabled us to evaluate much heavier snowfall events than those simulated by dynamical downscaling using JRA-55 (JRA55-DS). Over the Sea of Japan side, heavy snowfall occurs due to cold air outbreaks, while over the Pacific Ocean side, heavy snowfall is brought about by extratropical cyclones passing along the Pacific Ocean coast. A comparison between JRA55-DS and d4PDF-DS indicated that heavier snowfall can occur due to more developed extratropical cyclones and enhanced cold air damming in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The geographical distributions of extremely heavy snowfall are different between two typical synoptic conditions, i.e., cold air outbreaks and extratropical cyclones. The difference is much clearer in the extremely heavy snowfall events than in all snowfall events. Heavy daily snowfall occurs in January and February on the Pacific Ocean side, in December and January on the Sea of Japan side, and in November and March in high mountainous areas. Saturated water vapor pressure is largest around 0°C under the snowing conditions. Synoptic conditions from late fall to winter are closely related to preferable conditions for heavy snowfall over the mountainous areas where the surface air temperature is much less than 0°C in the heavy snowfall events.
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