The Transition

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 6:29 am


Warm and dry through Thursday.  Change arrives this weekend with much colder air and snow likely.  The overall pattern is starting to gradually change toward one that will be more favorable for storms.


Yesterday we felt cool air once again in the region with even a couple snow showers here and there.  Despite the massive cool down, believe it or not, yesterday was still warmer than average.  In fact, I think we’ve been above average every day in SLC since January 4th.  A remarkable statistic.  The next few days should be no different as warm and dry air dominate the region.  Here is a look at our current pattern:


The green arrows indicate the approximate storm track.  You can see the ridge axis is right along the west coast and Utah is on the far right edge of the ridge.  This keeps us blocked with the storms and cold air diving down just to our east.

By this weekend, the ridge will amplify a bit, which will allow some cold air and storm energy to dive a bit farther west and into the area:


This will allow us to see some snowfall in Utah this weekend.  Details are still a bit vague, but late Friday through the weekend we should see periods of snowfall.  This system has an overland trajectory so there isn’t much moisture to work with, therefore accumulations should remain on the lighter side.  It will be nice to see colder air and snow in the sky again.

By the middle of next week, the ridge off the west coast starts to move west, this will allow storms to move in with a bit more over-water track in a more zonal flow.  This is the approximate heights and storm track on 2/26:


By the time we reach the end of the month, GFS and Euro ensembles agree that a trough is likely over the western U.S.   Here is what is currently depicted:


This is a stark contrast to the pattern we’ve seen for the past two months.  It is a pattern that is much more likely to bring the region consistent snowfall.   At this point, it does appear that the large scale pattern will be changing as we approach March, we are already starting to see the first symptoms of the change.  Any change is good change right now, so I think it’s safe for us to be cautiously optimistic.  However, with our track record of late, I think it would be foolish to get excited at this point.  Until actual strong storms start appearing in the medium range models, I think we should just maintain that cautious optimism.

Whatever happens, I’ll make sure you’re informed…


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18 thoughts on “The Transition

  1. Greg Maynard

    Thank you for all your dedication to powder tracking. I’m bringing my daughter out to Utah for the first time. March 3rd for a week. My dad is skiing Utah for the first time. I hope they need a snorkel!!!

  2. Cam S.

    I know someone has likely asked you, and I doubt you want to get too specific, but do you feel that this winter’s weather patterns in the Rocky Mountains are indicative or consonant with climate change?

    1. Wasatch Snow Forecast Post author

      Yeah, that’s been a frequent question. The answer is that nobody knows for sure if this is more indicative of the “new normal”, or if it is just a natural cycle of drier/warmer years. The fact is that this is not unprecedented. Archived data and tree ring studies suggest that the Western US has seen several periods like this of prolonged drought. In the mid to late 1980s, much of the west saw 8 or 9 out of 10 years with below normal snowfall. Then most of the 90s and 2000s was fairly good, so we forgot about it. Personally, I think we need several more decades of data to conclusively prove whether or not this is the new normal. My inclination would suggest that eventually we will return to the deep, cold snowy winters we’ve seen in the past. But global warming is real, we have been warming for much of the past century. How much of that is human-caused vs. natural is still up for debate… Luckily for us, we will fare much better than the Sierra and Cascades which could see an increasing percentage of precipitation fall as rain. The Wasatch isn’t nearly as susceptible to rain in the winter, so our snow might not be quite as light and fluffy, but it should still fall.

      In short, it’s too early to panic and blame this all on climate change, but it will certainly be an interesting pattern to watch over the next half century…

      1. Chris C.

        While it is too early to “blame it on climate change,” I think that one factor that is acting on our storms is a pretty direct result of global warming, which is the high amplitude jetstream flow (big loops rather than a meandering pattern) that has created the “ridiculously resistant ridge” that is blocking snow from the intermountain west, and the accompanying “won’t go away blob of polar air” that is hammering the east coast. This larger amplitude wave pattern is due (as I understand it) to the increased transport of heat from the equatorial Pacific ocean, to the colder polar regions, and the subsequent displacement of cold air to the south. I get out of my technical depth at about this point, but my understanding is that a) this is a very different jetstream than we have ever seen, and b) the changes are due to increased warmth being retained in the system (by increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere).

        Thanks for this blog. While the skiing has been pretty discouraging this winter, the weather has certainly been interesting to watch .

  3. Corey Smaller

    cautiously I put my mtn bike back on the rack in the garage, ever so slowly I repack my climbing ropes and quickdraws and hesitantly I creep to my tuning table with wax and scraper…..

  4. brig

    If the monster blob of high pressure/warm air moves out into the central to western Pacific, what effect will that have on storm formation/expansion? Would it shutdown the storm pipeline that has been going on for the last month?

    The storms have been great. Unfortunately they have all been shuttled through BC to the northern latitudes and then down through Ontario, Quebec and the NE U.S. Will the conveyor dry up with the high pressure shift?

    1. jim

      Wish I could say we have been getting a lot of snow from these systems here in the northeast but mostly just very cold. Coastal New England and the Canadian Maritimes have been getting all the snow. Believe it or not, most other areas of the northeast are BELOW average on snowfall. Most of the big ski resorts in New England and Quebec are still below average base depths for this time of year…they had little snow in December and most of January. All this cold and little to show for it.

  5. Terry

    Ok selfish question. If temps drop will the soft wet snow turn to boiler plate?
    If so what resorts/places will be the least bad.
    We arrive Thur PM, depart Tue PM.

    A bit of snow on ice is what we call dust on crust back East.

    1. Wasatch Snow Forecast Post author

      If temps drops quickly after warm weather, yes, the slushy snow can get pretty hard packed and crusty… however, I doubt it will be as bad as the boiler plate you experience at times back east. You should have some good skiing.

  6. Nick

    I’ve been reading this blog for about a month or so now, in anticipation of my first trip to the Wasatch 2/20-2/23. As things are coming into focus, not seeing quite the snow we had hoped for, but somethings better than nothing! Thanks for your continued thoughts and analysis, keeps me less bored at work!

  7. Martin

    So, going out and buying a whole load of kid’s lawn toys ready for Spring this weekend has done the trick..!!
    It’s like washing your car assures for rain. I go buy spring/summer outdoor equipment and the high pressure is scared away into the Pacific!

    As I am not riding this season due to a torn rotator cuff, my desire for snow is purely based on the need for snow pack ahead of the summer. However, alongside that I am pleased for all the rest of you powder hunters and hope the upper wasatch gets a robust second half to the winter. I’d just prefer if it stayed above 7000ft please! I like not having to shovel the drive in the morning.

  8. Tom

    I was with my brother, his daughter and her friend (both 15 year old snowboarders) at Snowbird on Monday. Icy and challenging conditions to me, but being from the East Coast they had a blast. Just the size and scale of Snowbird was enough to get excited about, and scraping down a slick Regulator Johnson was “just another day on the mountain” for them.

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