It’s all about that base

Friday, December 18, 2015 at 6:30 am


A few snow showers around this morning, mainly in the northern Wasatch.  We will clear up later today and for most of Saturday.  Next storm moves in Saturday night into Sunday morning with modest accumulations. Sunday should be a good day.  BIG storm looks more likely for early next week.


Yesterday was amazing.  I took a gamble and went to Sundance on the hope that their reported 17″ was legit.  I was doubtful, having looked at a neighboring snotel site and considering the pattern we had overnight wasn’t overly favorable for that area.  I thought it was exaggerated.  In fact, I thought it was exaggerated all the way until I got on the Arrowhead chair to head to the top of the mountain.  Then, it became clear that it was a true snow report — at least on that upper portion of the mountain — and it was glorious.  Bluebird conditions, not many people there, and 17″ of fluff on every turn.  Honestly, I can’t figure out the nano-climate that produced that much snow in such a localized spot.  But honestly, I don’t really care either, I’m just glad I was there to enjoy it.  That makes 3 day since Monday that I’ve skied over-the-head powder.  Not too shabby!  🙂

To the forecast…

A weak front is bringing very light snow, mainly to the mountains north of SLC this morning.  This should clear out quickly.  Here is a look at some snow falling up at Snowbasin:


Snow stake is measuring 6″, but when you put that in motion, you can see that it is mostly windfilled snow from overnight.


Still… that means there will be some nice wind-deposited turns out there today.

We will be in a break for most of Friday and Saturday, then the next storm pushes in for Saturday night into Sunday.  This storm is fast-moving and not too strong, but it should bring several hours of moderate to heavy snow to the mountains.  Here is the total accumulations according to the NAM-WRF composite:



Those light blues are mostly 2-5″ of snow, the dark blues and purples are 5-10″ of snow.  I’m going to say this will be a 3-6″ for most mountains with 5-10″ for the Cottonwoods.  Sunday should be a good day to ski/ride.

After a short break late Sunday, the big boy starts to push in on Sunday night into Monday.  This storm will feature a strong jet stream and atmospheric river that will be aimed right at northern Utah.  Right now it looks to start Monday with a peak on Tuesday before finally exiting on Wednesday.  This means a prolonged period of heavy snow for the mountains is looking likely.  Because the jet stream will be virtually on top of us, it also means very strong winds.  Often, with this much moisture, we see warmer air from the ocean work into the region.  The freezing level and snow levels are the same due to the moist air.  That means snow levels rise.  Rain in the lower valleys will be the result.  I do not see this as being a super high snow level event however.  Right now I’m thinking around 6,500 feet, perhaps rising as high as 7,000 feet.  We’ve had AR events in the past where the snow level went well above 8k feet, so I’ll take 7k feet.

Here is a look at the truly astonishing QPF values for the Upper Cottonwoods:


Even if we assume this is overdone by 30%, that’s still a median of >4″ of liquid.

Right now we have a lot of cold, fluffy snow on bottom.  When you add higher density snow on top, it’s a recipe for extreme avalanche danger.  When you add in the winds, it means that this storm, while very strong and beneficial to our snowpack, might not be the best for skiing purposes.  We may find its better to just let it do its thing on Monday-Wednesday, then enjoy a much healthier base when it’s over.

As of right now, models do indicate that there is a good chance for another storm moving in around Christmas Day.  More active weather!  This is reflected in the current CPC 6-10 day forecast:


Suddenly, nobody’s complaining that it feels just like last year…



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50 thoughts on “It’s all about that base

  1. steve

    I am going to Jackson Hole in 2 weeks, will the this big storm hit Jackson? How about Big sky? ( going there in a month?)

  2. Cody Reutzel

    This daily forecast is awesome. I don’t know your name, but thanks for what you do! I look forward to this every single morning. Some of my gratitude may be spilling over due to the great weather:).

  3. Db

    “Suddenly, nobody’s complaining that it feels just like last year…”

    Or the year before and the year before and the year before and….

  4. Strangelaw

    Evan – I’m sure you have explained this before, but is it possible to pull the QPF (in) chart for other areas? How would I pull a chart like that for Powder Mountain?

    1. Wasatch Snow Forecast

      Thanks to the great folks at the U of U atmospheric sciences dept, you can check out these charts for many areas. Go to, then click on NAEFS-Experimental on the left sidebar, then plumes, then you can see many other locations. Ben Lomond Peak is probably the closest to Powder Mountain.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Dragonclawhammer

    So at this point you’re only sketching out the swe possibility for the mon-wed storm rather than an inches of snow forecast…given that it will be wet with relatively high snow levels, what do you think would be a good density assumption at the resorts’ elevations? 15%? So 4″ swe = 27″ wet snow?

    1. Wasatch Snow Forecast

      I hope densities aren’t quite that high. I think 10% (10:1) ratio is more likely for the mid-mountain elevations. I’m not going to get into forecasted inches just yet, but I’m sure we can make some assumptions based on current model predictions.

  6. Luke Schmick

    How do you think Brian Head will fare with the mon-wed storm next week? Seems most of the action will be to the north?

  7. Chad Niel

    As someone who loves to do nothing but lap the Cirque on mid-season powder days, lots and lots of base coming in December makes me super happy, even if it wont result in the silky smooth turns we got this week.

  8. Scot Chipman

    Great to see the forecast models holding strong with a unsettled weather pattern through Christmas and possibly beyond, would be great to get to a normal snow pack by January 1st.

    I don’t doubt the 17″ in Bishops Bowl, saw your pictures and others and talk to someone on patrol. The deep snow in Bishop’s Bowl can likely be explained by wind loading to some degree. What I don’t agree with is their report of 17″ from their official station which is 700′ below the summit. I know hype sells but I wish Sundance and other resorts (Snowbird and a few others) would stick to real numbers.

    1. Jake Weber

      I snowshoe’d American Fork Canyon yesterday, just over the hill from Sundance. It was deep. Deeper than anything yet this year up there. 17 inches was a safe bet.

        1. Jake Weber

          I’m uniquely qualified to answer that definitively. All of it. I was up there Tuesday, snowshoeing with my wife from about 11-3 pm. There was about 10 inches of new snow at that time. When I went back yesterday afternoon, our tracks were completely gone and there was at least 18 inches in some places.

    2. Wasatch Snow Forecast

      There was no evidence of windloading. It skied like 17″+ on all aspects off the Arrowhead chair. I can provide ample evidence if you’d like to prove how deep it was. Frankly, I think your comment is insulting to not only myself but also Sundance ski patrol, especially considering you weren’t even there.

      1. Scot Chipman

        Just got back from on fun and interesting day (rime crust) at Snowbird and wanted to apologize, in no way was I trying to insult anyone so sorry it came across that way. When I first saw the 17″ report I questioned it but then later in the day after your report and from one person I know on the ski patrol at Sundance I had no problem it. See the post above, “I don’t doubt the 17″ in Bishops Bowl”.

        As a meteorologist who grew up skiing at Sundance in the 70’s and 80’s (skiing at Snowbird since 1986) even working for them for a few years as a ski instructor I questioned the report knowing the synoptic situation. I then looked at Sundance’s own weather station on their official snow plot which is 700′ feet below the summit, also looked at the nearby snotel station. Automated weather stations are not perfect but I have been looking at them since the late 90’s when they first become available on-line and there was no data from those two stations to support the 17″ report from their official snow study plot. Sorry to question a snow report from a corporation who’s bottom line is reflected in the amount of snow reported. I know from first hand experience that ski resorts will stretch the truth as far as possible and even lie to report as much snow as they can which is understandable when money is involved. In general Alta does a good job reporting snow, if you study their reports and Snowbirds and compare them over the years like I have you can clearly see that Snowbird is stretching the truth or what I call lying. These types of practices are understandable but I don’t have to accept it which is how this whole Sundance thing started.

        Once again I don’t doubt the 17″ in Bishops Bowl after a few reliable reports, what I doubt is 17″ at their official snow plot 700′ down the mountain and to the north. As for why Bishop’s Bowl had so much snow from a synoptic situation that did not support it my best guess in still wind loading. Keep in mind that wind loading can happen locally which leaves behind evidence that it has occurred or from a greater distance that does not leave behind evidence. Strong southwest winds like the ones that occurred on Wednesday night can scour the large bowl over the ridge and to the southwest of the top of Arrowhead while at the same time there can be generally light winds in Bishop’s Bowl. In addition you can get wind loading from a greater distance off of some of the slopes of Timpanogos.

        No hard feelings, I’m happy with all of the snow lately and all that is in the forecast. Enjoy!

        1. Wasatch Snow Forecast

          I know, but you make it sound like the deep snow was just confined to Bishop’s bowl. It was 17″ all over the upper part of the mountain. In fact, my deepest turns were made before Bishop’s even opened. This wasn’t a wind issue, it was a uniform 17″ of snow on all aspects. Once you made it back to the front mountain, there was only about 5-6″ of snow. There was something very strange going on up on that Arrowhead part of the mountain. I’ve seen false marketing from ski resorts, this wasn’t one of those cases.

          1. Wasatch Snow Forecast

            Yeah, that’s why I keep saying it is strange. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I considered it could be blowing off the summit of Timp, but it didn’t really have the feel of re-distributed snow. I don’t know the answer, all I know for sure is that the entire upper mountain was deep and it was one of the best mornings I’ve had in awhile.

          2. Db

            Scot, do you have your own blog where you can express your opinions and comments or is that what wsf is for you?

    3. Chocolate Chipman

      Dear Scotch Tapeman,

      How I have missed you throughout the summer when you are “Water” Skiing. Alas here we are again. You making comments and forecasts on some other guys forecast page and me making fun of you for it but I digress.

      I have been searching for the Scotch Tapeman’s Water and Snow forecast page for years. I have searched high and low through all search engines, loads of Isis propaganda feeds and many homo erotic water skiing sites but have come up short at all turns.

      You really don’t care about the children do you?

      Your dear friend,

      Chocolate Chipman

  9. Jim

    I agree that most resorts are guilty of misleading reporting. There does not seem to be any standard for reporting snowfall or base depths. Some report mid-mountain while others report upper elevation which obviously can be quite different. While on the subject can anyone explain how Snowbird’s base went from ~20-24 inches before the latest storm to 48 inches after the storm (now only 47 inches) while claiming to have received 3-4 feet of snow. I know there’s settling of snow and wind driven issues but the numbers don’t add up. The base should be well over 50 inches by my calculations.

      1. Jim

        Given that it was a light fluffy low density snow it probably settles very fast which could explain why the base numbers didn’t increase much relative to the amount of snowfall.

        1. Wasatch Snow Forecast

          You can see the snowfall, then how much it settles by using the automated Alta Collins sensor. It supports the idea that the 45-50″ of snow that fell this week settled down to about 15-20″.

  10. LHSkier

    So, my condo at Solitude is empty right now from 12/23 – 12/27. While my best judgment is to forget family for Christmas, I know better – I live in Texas and am coming up on the first of the year. In anycase, if any of you locals are looking for a place for those days, let me know. It looks like it would be nice to get stuck up the canyon with this much coming.

  11. dov shore

    I can’t contain myself. In NYC and couldn’t be more hyped to see snow for the first time this winter. How would you say this storm will play out. Im coming Sunday night and wondering if BCC would be hard to drive up from the first storm

  12. Dragonclawhammer

    Just curious…in the blog post above your saying 5-10 inches for the cottonwoods Sat night (I’m assuming and hoping this is the correct forecast)…on the opensnow snowbird forecast it says 2-4…whats up with that?

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