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The State of the Slopes

The State of the Slopes

Have our predictions for this winter's snowfall stood the test of time?
By Joel Gratz
posted: 03/02/2011
State of the Slopes

You hear snow predictions all the time, but few folks actually check to see how those forecasts turn out. Since meteorologists get such a bad name (“I’d love to have a job that pays me when I’m right only 50% of the time!”), let’s actually revisit my predictions for this winter and see if the profession can regain some credibility. If things are looking good, then perhaps a high-five is in order. If the weather hasn’t worked out as we planned, then go ahead and make those “50%” jokes for the rest of the season.

Let’s start off with my snow prediction for this winter, which is immortalized here on the interwebs. No getting around it - that was my forecast back in middle of October and I’m sticking to it.

Because of the La Nina conditions forecasted for the winter, I predicted 125-150% of snow for the northern states and provinces in the west, including Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. At this point, things are proceeding nicely with tons of powder days, although there was a bit of a break in there during the early to middle parts of February. Alyeska is checking in with just over 100% of normal snowfall, though Jackson Hole’s 400”+ of snow is about 140% of average. So far, so good – based on the map most areas are well above normal.

While I hoped for above average snow (100-125%) for central and northern Colorado and northern New England, I wasn’t as confident that this would happen. Alas, the snow gods were kind to these areas with Steamboat tipping the scales at about 140% of average snow, Vail coming in at 145% of average, and Jay Peak, Vermont also coming in above average with 110% of normal snow through March 1st. Again, so far, so good.

Finally, I was more pessimistic about the snow in the central and southern part of the U.S. The projection for areas like Tahoe, southern CA, Utah, and more central areas of New England was for 95-105% of average snowfall. Thankfully, even these areas are well above average, with most Tahoe resorts coming in around 150% of average, Utah solidly entrenched in the 125-150% range, and Killington right around 100% of normal. Overall, I’d say this region out-performed my expectations, and if I’m going to be wrong, I’d much rather forecast on the low side and be pleasantly surprised.

Generalizing the weather pattern over an entire season is like generalizing an entire decade of your life: sure your 20s might have been a blur, but you weren’t partying the entire time. Same goes for the atmosphere: a more northern storm track dominated most of the season, but a few weeks of southern snows dumped many feet in December and a few weeks of eastern snow in late January and early February kept some of the west dry. Overall, yes – the snowfall is shaping up to be characteristic of a La Nina season. But, there are some exceptions and we’re lucky that this mostly means more snow than I expected and not less.

Where will the snow fall during the rest of the season? At least through the middle of March, it seems much of the western mountains will see regular storms with warmer conditions in the northeast. Beyond this time, who knows! Do your snow dance and break out the sunscreen, because even if it’s not snowing, at least it’ll be warm, sunny, and time to focus on après ski on the sun deck.

NOTE: Thanks to bestsnow.net and SNOTEL for making data available on average snowfall.

 

Meteorologist Joel Gratz is the creator of http://www.ColoradoPowderForecast.com and is based in Boulder, CO.

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