Season Wrap Up

Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Forecast:

Saturday, May 10

Fast moving storm yesterday tapped into some good moisture. Together with some daytime heating, we saw some intense snow squalls that piled up 7″ of new snow. Here is a look at Snowbird’s snowcam yesterday at 2:49PM:

SnowCam_main

Next storm system is already moving into the area this morning.  Expect valley rain and mountain snow to become more widespread later today with off and on showers through tonight.

This storm is cold and strong for this time of year.  However, right now it looks like the best precipitation will be south of the Wasatch in central Utah, the Uintas, and east into Colorado and Southern Wyoming.

Accumulations by late tomorrow should be 3-6″ in the Wasatch and up to a foot in the Uintas above 7,000 feet.

Personally, I’m taking a short drive east into Colorado where 1-2 feet will be possible.  Enjoy your weekend! WSF

Season Wrap Up:

Well, the season is pretty much over.  While the lifts may still be turning at Snowbird for a few more weeks, and some people are still enjoying some Spring touring, the heart of winter has come to a close.  May usually brings the first hot weather of the season with temperatures reaching well into the 80s by the end of the month.  However, May is also notorious for the occasional snow storm.  While I may be calling this a “Season Wrap Up” post, please don’t think that snow is over.  It’s likely not, especially in the high Wasatch.  I remember having a 10″ powder day on May 18th last year.

So what did our season look like… Well, that depends on where you call home.  Down in Southern Utah. The season was bad.  Things started out ok and we were near average into the early part of December before things flatlined.  Hardly any good storms came through until the second half of February, and even then, they were less than stellar.  Here is a good graphical view of the season from Midway Valley, not too far from Cedar City and Brian Head:

Snip20140503_5

 

In the end, Midway Valley only finished with about half of its annual average.

Farther north things we a bit better at Snowbird.  Around opening day in mid-November, the Bird was around average and having a decent start to the season.  A two week dry spell to end November saw the area fall behind average a bit.  A mediocre December and an awful January did little to help the situation and LCC continued to fall farther behind average.  Luckily, February was above average as the Northern half of Utah saw the effects of two atmospheric river events.  This laid a thick layer of heavy, wet snow on the area and saw our SWE numbers improve.  March was near average but a warm and relatively dry April saw LCC’s chances of getting close to average come to an end.  Again, it was a dry December and awful January that doomed Snowbird and Alta to a third consecutive below average season.

Snip20140503_1

On the other side of the ridge, things were a bit better for Brighton.  The type of storms that generally favor LCC were less common this season.  Instead, the atmospheric river in February and several storms with prominent SW components helped BCC to a decent season compared to their neighbors to the south.  Similar to LCC, BCC had a bad December and January but made up significant ground in February.  Consistent snow fell through most of March and in the end, Brighton’s numbers fell just short of average.  Like Snowbird, Brighton was doomed to play catch up after Dec/Jan.  Park City’s numbers, relative to average, were quite similar to Brighton’s and they too came up just short of average.

Snip20140503_2

 

Another jaunt north to the mountains surrounding Ogden Valley.  This particular graph below shows the data for Ben Lomond Peak.  The recurring theme of a poor Dec/Jan but an excellent February is evident.  Another good storm cycle at the end of March made it possible for Ben Lomond station to peak out right at average.

Snip20140503_3

The final snotel station we’ll look at has the most positive numbers.  Tony Grove Lake saw the best benefits of anybody from the February atmospheric river events.  A phenomenal month that saw them average nearly 1″ of liquid every day!  Their numbers jumped from 60% of normal at the beginning of the month to 130% by the end of the month.  While things slowed after that, TGL was still able to finish the season with about 13″ more water than average.  That’s about 30% above normal.  Not bad at all.

Snip20140503_4

 

To sum up, the season was noticeably better as you got farther north.  The entire state saw an okay start to things but had a poor December and January.  The north was able to make up ground in February, but southern Utah saw very little from these systems and continued to fall farther behind.

While the numbers in Northern Utah overall come in around average, many will argue that this is deceiving — and I have to agree with them.  The storms in February, while high in water content, made for poor skiing by Utah standards.  So our best month statistically, was not the type of epic snow for which we are famous.  Also, these storms that dropped about 1/3 of our yearly precipitation in northern Utah, were very warm with high snow levels.  You may remember that snow levels rose above 8,000 feet for much of the events in February.  That meant that lower elevations saw mostly rain.  While most of the snotel data above is from high elevation gauges, if you were to consult lower elevation sensors, you’d find the season to look markedly worse.  It’s my opinion that from a hydrological standpoint, the season wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad either.  However, from a skier’s standpoint, I preferred both of the last two seasons to this one.

So what happens to WSF in the summer? Well, I will continue to post periodically in the summer, but less about short term weather and more about potential developments meteorologically that could impact us next winter.  Last summer I was posting every Sunday and that seemed to work well, so I’d expect something similar this year.

The question I’ve received a dozen times already this Spring is what are my feelings on the potential for an El Nino event for next winter.  For those of you who don’t know, an El Nino Watch has been posted by the Climate Prediction Center.  Nothing shapes our winters quite like ENSO (El Nino/La Nina).  It’s been a number of years since our last strong El Nino and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.  While it has only been picked up by the media in the last month or so, the CPC discussions have been talking about the signs developing since well before Christmas.  With that being said, an El Nino Watch means that there is a better than average chance of El Nino developing — not that one is imminent.  Right now, I’d say there is a 50% chance of El Nino, 30% chance of ENSO neutral, and 20% chance of La Nina for next winter.  So by no means a guarantee.  Even if El Nino were to occur, there is also no guarantee that it would be a strong event.  So, if you’re starting to catch my drift, I basically think it’s foolish to put too much stock in ENSO right now with 5+ months before it starts snowing again.

There is also a tendency to hear El Nino and La Nina and think they must mean good things for Utah snow.  Not necessarily the case.  El Nino events usually feature a strong southern jet that brings above average rain and snow to Southern California and the Southwest.  Usually that means good things for Southern Utah, but Northern Utah is on the fringes and often sees only average precip during El Nino years.  The notoriously strong El Nino years in history have been good to us, but we have a long way to go before we know if this will be a strong event, if it develops at all.

As always, we will monitor the situation throughout the summer and keep you informed.  Thanks for a truly awesome season — even if it wasn’t our best snowfall-wise!  Always a privilege to be trusted with your forecasting needs.

WSF





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  • chandler

    Thank you WSF for the great forecasting throughout the year. I always look forward to your posts. i will keep checking through out the summer for your updates. Hopefully we can get somethin rockin for next year! Thanks again!

  • Well done much appreciated

  • Bob Mayer

    Thank you for taking your time to provide us with useful information. This was our first season in Utah after relocating from WI last summer. I read your posts religiously and truly enjoyed your style and perspective. I can’t wait to get going next year! (especially since I ruptured my Achilles on 3/30 and have been out of commission). Enjoy you summer!

  • STEVE

    Great job on your forecasts. Having spent my 3rd winter skiing utah for an extended period of time-about 5 weeks-I don’t know how I could have survived without your daily forecasts, that always seemed to give me hope-when none appreared to be in the forecasts. Thanks for a great job-looking forward to next season!

  • Laura

    Thank you WSF for all your hard work and dedication this season. Our family truly appreciates your forecasts, both for skiing and winter driving. Looking forward to next season!

  • Matt

    Thanks so much for your daily (or sometimes twice daily) posts. I certainly enjoyed and appreciated the intelligence you provide, and your realistic outlooks on forecasting.

  • Josh

    I agree with your assessment of the ski season. I think it was from early December to early March in between “epic” powder days. Sure, there were some powder days in between, but as you said, they were very high density. And none that I can sit here in early May and remember off the top of my head. Glad to hear it wasn’t as bad from a hydrological standpoint.

    I do have one question about El Nino. I have read several posts on the subject, and as you say, it doesn’t seem to impact our numbers in the Wasatch that greatly. However, it seems to me that the increase in storms from the Southwest would likely mean that we would have more storms like this February (ie higher density storms that aren’t so great to LCC). If El nino does happen, are these types of storms likely what we will see next year?

    Thanks again for all the work you have put into this site!

  • As a ski patroller in the park city area resorts your site was one of the first I would go to for weather information, thanks so much for doing what you do! Look forward to this winter.

  • Landon wharton

    As a patroller in big cottonwood I would also like to thank you for such a great objective interpretation of the weather. We reference your site often in morning meeting and descussing future control projects and more importantly day off powder skiing. Looking forward to next season and enjoy your summer!

  • Skip Jensen

    You said “The storms in February, while high in water content, made for poor skiing by Utah standards. So our best month statistically, was not the type of epic snow for which we are famous. Also, these storms that dropped about 1/3 of our yearly precipitation in northern Utah, were very warm with high snow levels. You may remember that snow levels rose above 8,000 feet for much of the events in February. That meant that lower elevations saw mostly rain. While most of the snotel data above is from high elevation gauges, if you were to consult lower elevation sensors, you’d find the season to look markedly worse. It’s my opinion that from a hydrological standpoint, the season wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad either. However, from a skier’s standpoint, I preferred both of the last two seasons to this one.”

    Totally agree. Below 8,000 was usually pretty terrible this year (by our standards) and above 8,000 was often pretty high in moisture — not great for powder skiing and even worse after a few freeze and thaw events. The best conditions could often only be found at the highest elevations, and even up there there were often windblown and dense snow conditions. I’ll be rooting for colder and drier next winter. Keep up the good work!