Make or Break March

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 8:14 am

Yesterday was an incredible day for those of us that lucked out and spent the day in LCC.  The front rolled through Monday evening and brought virtually no snow.  Orographics were extremely slow to develop and upon waking up yesterday.  I had marked the storm as dud.  Orographic lift, however, kept snowfall going throughout the day in parts of the Wasatch favored by the northwest flow.  The lift was extremely shallow, which prevented it from doing much in BCC or even making it to the upper mountain at Snowbird and Alta.  But the bases of the mountain topped a foot by the time the valves finally shut off late yesterday afternoon.  It made for some great skiing, especially on top of the 30+” that had fallen on Thursday-Sunday.   Snowbird reported 14″ from the storm, Alta reporting 12″, The Canyons got some spill over and reported 7″.  Farther east on the ridge, PCMR and Deer Valley reported hardly anything.  BCC also saw snow, but it was much lighter and they picked up 3-4″.  Snowbasin and PowMow also got a few inches.

One week ago, when our first storm looked like it was going to be a dud, I mentioned that we still had potential for 2-4 feet in the Wasatch over the next 7 days.  Well now it’s a week later and looking back we saw 46″ for LCC, 30+” for Snowbasin, around 2 feet for BCC, The Canyons and PowMow.  And about a 10″ for PCMR and Deer Valley.  So with the exception of Deer Valley and PCMR, we ended up right in that forecasted range.  Not bad!  If you’re wondering why PC and Deer Valley got the shaft, the easiest answer is to blame orographics, these cold systems coming out of the northwest rely a lot on the lift behind the front to generate snowfall.  Unfortunately, the geographic locations of these resorts are not favorable for this pattern.

I’m going to wait for all the snowpack reporting to be up-to-date before I look at where we stand now…but I’m guessing we’ll be 90% or so of normal in LCC. 80% in BCC.  75-85% the Northern Wasatch.  And 65-75% in Park City.  I’ll get specific numbers to you tomorrow.

Looking ahead, there is some good news and bad news.  The good news is that this ridging won’t be nearly as dominant or last nearly as long as it was looking a few days ago.  We’ll be brushed by a system on Thursday night and Friday that could bring a slight chance for very light snow showers in the mountains.  Then on Sunday night into Monday, we’ll have another system affect the area.  It doesn’t look particularly strong at this point, but it will bring the next chance for accumulating snow.  Due to the warm air mass in place under the high pressure ahead of the system, it will likely start out as rain in the valleys with snow in the mountains.  Beyond that, there is another system for later next week but models have struggled with this feature.  It might be another cut-off low, and those, as many of you have learned, are incredibly hard to forecast and unreliable.

Looking way ahead, the long-range GFS is backing off the idea of reverting to an active pattern for the second week of March.  It wants to re-establish high pressure.  This makes more sense as the teleconnections are not in our favor right now.  Strongly positive PNA would suggest ridging in the Western U.S. and the PNA is not forecasted to go negative for awhile.  MJO, which I think was a major factor in delivering our snowfall over the past week, raced through the favorable phases (1-4) in about 10 days and is now in Phase 6.  It might be a few more weeks before that is in our favor again.  CFSv2 long-range outlook is showing drier-than-normal conditions through at least March 20 before average precip anomalies return.  If I had to guess, I think anything we get out of next week’s system(s) will be a bonus as they are “beating the odds”.  Then we might dry out again until mid-month.  After that, who knows, but chances are something will work back into our favor by then.

The past week helped a lot but March is a defining month for us. If we can have a good month, we can still salvage an average season for the Wasatch.  If not, then we might be facing some water issues and high fire danger again in the summer.  Let’s hope for the former.


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  • scotchipman

    Lets all hope we get lucky and March is a big month! Link to current snow pack numbers which show the snow pack around 80% of normal for northern Utah.

  • Anonymous

    do you think that the high temps will affect my trip to park city and the canyons for the week of 3/3

    • No. They have plenty of snow. If the temps do end up being warm, it will only make for some awesome spring skiing!

  • Anonymous

    Hi WSF. Great detailed report this morning. You all do a wonderful job! I am supposed to be in Alta March21-25. I have never skied at Alta but I am concerned that they are behind in snowfall and according to your report this morning,it does not look like March is looking that promising for much snow. Will there still be enough coverage by that late in March to have some good skiing. Any feedback would be great as I am not sure whether I should cancel the trip. Thanks as always for your great efforts.

    • Don’t worry. There will be plenty of coverage. Despite being a bit behind average, they have still seen 324″ of snow this year with about a 100″ base (one of the highest in the country). Resorts like Alta are frequently open well into May even in bad years. You’ll have no issues with coverage. 🙂

      • Anonymous

        Thanks WSF. Based on your report from this morning, I might get lucky and arrive as the pattern begins to change in favor of more storms?

  • James

    I will put all my hopes on the first two weeks of April bring snow and the last 6 weeks before June bringing plenty of rain.

  • Anonymous

    Hi WSF. From your report, March is not looking optimistic. What are the changes of not seeing any significant snow. I know its a tough call but based upon your experience and knowledge, what are your thoughts?

    • I’m fairly confident we will see some decent snow. Based on today’s model runs, it could be as early as next week. We’ll see.

  • Out of all the winter months I’d bet more on March delivering the goods than any other. Here’s to Big Cottonwood Canyon making up some serious ground on Little Cottonwood Canyon!

  • Anonymous

    Good evening WSF. I am planning a trip to Park City somewhere around March 20th. Do you have any sense as to whether the skiing will still be reasonably good at that time of the month. I understand predicting snowfall this far out is difficult but will the coverage on the mountain still be sufficient. Thanks!

    • No reason to think it won’t be. Hopefully we’ll get some fresh snow during your trip for extra good conditions!

  • George

    Snowbird was money yesterday. Every run was better (and deeper) than the last. Sleeper storm for sure!

  • Stephen

    What can one expect for the month of april? not looking for a forecast, just an idea of what it will typically bring in terms of storm strength and consistency. thanks!

    • April is a transition month, You can see warm days with a high sun angle and spring-like conditions, but big winter storms are always a good bet in April as well. I love April skiing, lots of soft spring snow and still plenty of fresh powder.