February Outlook

Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 9:55 am

Quick update, Tuesday AM:

Clouds and occasional showers in the mountains today as “dirty ridge” allows for systems to our north to brush the area.  Stronger system enters the area during the day on Wednesday with the front passing Wednesday night.  The Wasatch, especially the northern areas of the range, should see 3-6 inches with 2-4 inches at Park City resorts.  Not a ton of snow, but at least enough to freshen up the snowpack.  There will be some fresh tracks Thursday morning at all ski areas even if its not the deepest snow.

In the long term, models are delaying the undercutting of moisture into the west coast until closer to mid-month instead of around the 10th which they were showing the other day.  Could just mean we have to wait a little bit longer for significant storms.

Previous discussion:

Sorry for the lack of new posts over the last week or so — Not much free time to write up a detailed discussion.  But it’s Sunday, I’ve had all morning to look through various weather models and read discussions from those who specialized in global weather patterns and make a Northern Utah specific forecast.  So what’s the verdict?  Good signs are out there but it may be a while before we see significant snow again.

Currently, a ridge has built up over the intermountain west with relatively weak systems moving into the Pacific Northwest across the Northern Rockies.  These systems will battle it out with the ridge over the next few days with the result being only light showers for northern Utah with only a couple inches here and there through Wednesday above 6,000 ft.  In this type of pattern, the farther north your location, the more likely you are to see accumulating snow.  Areas near the Idaho border could see a few inches but don’t expect much south of I-80.

By Thursday, the ridge will begin to assert its dominance. Rising Heights will give way to warmer temps in the mountains and inversions possible in the valleys. This is a fairly stubborn pattern that may last for a week or so. Luckily, we’ve had enough snow over the past couple weeks that Utah will still have great ski conditions.

The good news is that there are big-picture indications that February may yield another extended period of significant precipitation for the Wasatch.   The MJO (definition), which has largely been a non-factor in our weather so far this year, is currently forecasted to move into a strong Phase 6 before progressing to Phase 7.

Image of MJO forecast from NWS:

Forecasted MJO Location

Generally when this happens, the west coast is subjected to Pacific moisture undercutting high pressure in the North Pacific and taking aim at the West coast.  This is almost El Niño-like and can lead to a lot of snow (although the snow is often wet and heavy).  Central California and the Sierra Nevada are most favored by this type of pattern but Utah will still get copious amounts of precip in this type of pattern should it develop.

This is a great NWS graphic the illustrates MJOs influence and effects:

The effects MJO can have on Utah weather

As you can see by the graphic, once the MJO enters into the favorable Phase 7… there is usually a 7-10 period before it affects our weather in Utah.  Currently, the NWS is expecting it to reach Phase 7 by about the 6th of February which would mean it would affect our weather by mid-month.  However, global models are hinting that undercutting could begin a little earlier than that with moisture reaching the west coast by the 10th of February.  This all fits in with my “second week of february” prediction from earlier last week.

Currently, I would say we can expect warmer than normal, dry conditions through the first 10 days of the month of February with wet weather returning thereafter and likely continuing through a good portion of the rest of the month.

Unfortunately, I’m not sold on the idea that this year is going to be at all like last year and we’ll see snow continue right on through the spring.  My inclination is that La Niña will start to peter out by April with a normal spring for Utah. Hopefully we can get some more snow to at least be close to normal precipitation for the year, but we might just have to accept that this is a drought year.

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  • Seth C

    I live in NC and I will be in Park City Feb 12-20…based on your models and study should those 8 days be in the window of significant precipitation?

    • Seth,

      That is in a window that right now looks like we could see some significant snow… however, that is a long way away and right now we only have a very vague idea so that is all subject to change. Keep checking the site as we get closer and I’ll have a better idea of what you can expect.


  • Jim

    Coming to ski the canyons and deer valley for a few days starting on Feb 6th. Will conditions still becgood given the warmer temps and lack of precip?

    • Jim,
      Side country conditions will probably harden quite a bit by then ( with limited coverage still at PC resorts) but the groomers will be good. It all depends on how warm it gets during the day and how cold it gets at night, which is hard to say this far out.

  • Darin Brooks

    Hey Will this Cycle be Rain or Snow for the valley floors, or is that too far out to see?
    Thank you, Darin

    • Darin, if you’re referring to the cycle that COULD arrive by mid-February, it’s just way too early to tell right now. Currently I’d rather just focus on whether a wet pattern develops or not. The undercutting Pacific moisture tends to be of a warmer nature so I would guess more likely to be rain but as I said, still too early.

  • Laura

    I will be driving from SF Bay Area out to Park City around 2/10 or 2/11. Will I be ahead of the precipitation, or driving right into it? Might need to adjust my travel plans accordingly.

    • Laura, it’s still way too early to know any specifics… Check back in a week or so and we should have a better idea…


  • joeski

    How risky would you say scheduling a Wasatch ski trip for March 17th – 22nd is at this point in time? I know you can’t predict the future, but can I be assured of atleast decent conditions at that point in the spring? I’m from the East Coast so I’m not real familiar with the snowpack out West.



    • Wouldn’t be risky at all… even with our below average snowpack this year, we’ll still have plenty of snow to keep the ski areas fully open through March. And we’re only going to get more of the white stuff. March is the best time for skiing in Utah in my opinion. Looking forward to seeing you out here, Joe.