You know what’s cool? Having a big country. All political commentary aside, the fact that America is so big leads to some very interesting opportunities. The French quarter in New Orleans, backcountry roads in Nebraska, glitzy lights in New York, and Hollywood California are all accessible without the need to get out your passport. But the opportunities aren’t just related to sights and sounds. While weather patterns can sometimes be stuck in a rut, the good news for folks in the good ol’ US of A is that usually at least one section of the country is getting some good snow at any time during the season.
A dip in the jet stream (called a “trough”) persisted over the east coast for most of January and early February, leading to plenty of powder in the mountains and plenty of unhappy scrooges in the big cities. At the same time, some areas toward the middle of the country also benefited from the eastern trough, with some areas of Colorado getting the edge of the storms as they moved from southern Canada east toward the Atlantic Ocean.
Unfortunately, the yang to the east coast’s ying was California, which was mostly dry for the first six weeks of 2011. Some storms did pepper the northern Pacific coast with snow through this time, but with far less frequency (or depth) than skiers in Washington or Oregon would have hoped.
Now in mid February, the atmosphere is switching gears by taking the trough out of the east coast and placing it back on the west coast. If you look at snowfall in the U.S. as a zero sum game, then perhaps this isn’t a big deal since our country – overall – will continue to get good snow. But stay away from mentioning something like that to folks around Lake Tahoe who have been itching for a big snowstorm since New Years. As the image shows, “west is best” for at least the next few weeks.
Why did the atmosphere switch gears now, in the middle of February? There are all sorts of technical analyses that I could talk about, but the gist is that these things happen with little predictability. In early February, most meteorologists could tell you that the weather pattern would shift to favor the west coast over the next few weeks, but it would have been impossible to make a prediction about this during the beginning of the 2010-2011 snow season. There is just no way to plan powder days many weeks or even months ahead of time, but looking at just the next 5-10 days it does appear that snowfall totals will spike in the west. If you’ve been thinking about a trip to find some powder, heading west of the Mississippi through the end of February might put you in a very good spot.
Meteorologist Joel Gratz is the creator of http://www.ColoradoPowderForecast.com and is based in Boulder, CO.