Two models based on standard observations of precipitation, temperature, and run-off at low-altitude weather and gaging stations have been devised to calculate annual glacier balances in the North Cascades of Washington. The predicted glacier balances of the Thunder Creek basin glaciers, determined by a run-off–precipitation (RP) model during the 1920–74 period, are compared with balances predicted by a precipitation–temperature (PT) model for the same period. Annual balances determined by the PT model are also compared with balances measured by field techniques at South Cascade Glacier since 1958. In the PT model, winter snow accumulation (winter balance) is determined by winter (October–April) precipitation observed at the Snoqualmie Falls weather station. Summer (May–September) ablation (summer balance) on the glaciers is estimated by a technique which utilizes maximum and minimum air temperatures, also observed at Snoqualmie Falls. Ablation calculations incorporate summer cloud cover as a variable by using a relationship between cloud cover and the range in daily maximum and minimum air temperatures.
Annual mass changes for the 1884–1974 period in both South Cascade Glacier and the Thunder Creek glaciers were reconstructed by utilizing the PT model. The fluctuations in glacier mass during this period generally agree with historical observations and show that a definite change in glacier activity from marked recession to stability or an advancing state occurred about 1945. During the 1900–45 period, South Cascade Glacier lost mass at a rate of 1.4 m per year and the Thunder Creek glaciers (which are at a higher altitude) at 1.1 m per year.
These models suggest that the relationship of glacier mass balance to precipitation and temperature is a very sensitive one. It appears from these studies that a decrease in summer air temperature of just over 0.5 deg or an increase in winter accumulation of slightly more than 10% (350 mm) from the 1920–74 average would cause these glaciers to grow continuously.