Shades of Last Year?

Thursday, December 31, 2015 at 8:02 am


Cold today for the last day of 2015.  High pressure will take control as we head into the New Year.  It is a “dirty” ridge so clouds may be possible from time to time.  Storm track favors the desert southwest next week with some snow possible in mountains of southern Utah.  We will be watching to see if this storm track pushes farther north during the second week of January.


Last day of 2015.  Good riddance.  In case you needed a reminder,  January, February, and March 2015 were abysmal.  It looks like this month, December, will be the only one with above average snowfall.  Definitely not a calendar year to remember for Utah powder hounds, but there were still some incredible powder days thrown in there.

Not too much change to the forecast from yesterday.  We saw some snow showers yesterday and overnight.  A few resorts in Northern Utah are reporting an inch or two.  Central Utah mountains were hit the hardest with 8″ reported this morning at Eagle Point.  Cold for the rest of the day but clearing is evident.  Check out this morning’s webcam image from Snowbird:


Stunning!  A reminder of why I live here, just happened to check the webcams at the right time.  Great Western cam at Brighton also looking beautiful.


Should have done a dawn patrol tour this morning…. Oh well…

In general, we will be dry for the weekend.  An outside chance for a few clouds and perhaps a snow shower as a wave ejects through the region, but I doubt there will be any chance for accumulation.

Next week, the storm track becomes very active but will be well south of us.  Storms will split in the Pacific, then the best energy will ride the southern branch of the jet into the desert southwest.  Good news for SoCal and Arizona.  Southern Utah could get in on some of the action.  Northern Utah will likely be too far north, at least initially.  The hope is that subsequent storms push farther north and we can get some action into Utah by late next week.  At this point, significant snowfall looks unlikely in Northern Utah during the next 7+ days.

Last Year vs. This Year:

If you went back to the forecast on December 31 and January 1 of last year.  I talked about Northern Utah’s near to slightly above average snowpack, and also the fact that we would be taking a break in the pattern for at least 7+ days with no significant snowfall in the forecast.  Some of the similarities are spooky.  Look at last year vs. this year snowpack for Ben Lomond Peak (near Powder Mountain/Snowbasin):


Almost shockingly similar.  The numbers are virtually identical and we paralleled the late December spike.  After the new year last year, there wasn’t much additional accumulation through early March when the snowpack had a very early peak.

Thaynes Canyon (PC) is also showing similarities to last year:


It’s almost difficult to see the line for this year because it so closely mirrors last year.



Brighton’s spike this year was bigger than last year, so we are above last year’s SWE at this point, just barely.  Of note, Snowbird is below last year, which demonstrates that this year’s storms have favored BCC more than usual.

Overall, the numbers in Northern Utah are very, very similar to what they were at this time one year ago.  We all know how that turned out.  We had three consecutive months (Jan, Feb, March) of near record low snowfall, which led to our worst cumulative seasonal snowfall totals ever.  Is this year doomed to repeat?

No.  At least, I highly doubt it.

While the numbers are similar, everything about the large scale pattern this season has been different.  One glance at the west-wide snowpack map tells the story of how different things are this year…

Last year:


This year:


Overall the west is doing much much better this year.  Last year, the best numbers were to our north and east.  This year, the best numbers are to our south and west.  The Pacific Northwest was a barren wasteland last year at this time.  Now, they are doing quite well and some areas of the Cascades just had their snowiest December ever!

El Nino does not have a strong correlation to Northern Utah snowfall, but it does almost guarantee that persistent ridging like last year is unlikely.  I think at the very least we will see frequent storms move into the west coast.  So while we may not be the bullseye of their moisture, we should still reap some of the benefits.  Last year’s Jan-Feb-Mar stretch was one for the record books, I think its safe to say that this year will, at the very least, be significantly better. With a bit of luck, our spring will more closely mirror 82-83 El Nino season, when snow fell almost continuously from mid-January thru early May.


P.S.  Unlikely that I’ll post on New Year’s Day, except perhaps a quick update if models latch on to something specific.  Enjoy your holiday and I will see you next year!



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  • Chad Niel

    Thanks for keeping up the hard work even after the excitement of last week winds down! I was starting to get a little depressed but I had to remember that while last year didn’t have the quantity we want, there were epic powder days even in this midst of a record dry spell. We are still so spoiled to live here 🙂

    PS: I would like to take a trip to Jackson this year, preferably a weekend when we miss a storm that hits them. Any recomended sites to follow that could keep me up to date on the action up there? I know you mention it occasionally but it’s not your focus.

    Happy new year!

  • Joey Camps

    What is the likelihood of this years snowpack taking out the Glen Canyon dam? Because that would be sweet!

  • Thanks so much for the hard work, and for coverage on Sundance. Hoping that Jan-March for us don’t fall off like 2015. Someone mentioned that we got ~80% of the snow in the last 10 days that we got all last-years ski season at Sundance. Not sure if that’s true, but the coverage is incredibly good right now with the cold temps helping maintain the pack. Happy New Year!

  • Jim

    Good analysis. Looking ahead in the long range GFS the pattern does seem to get stormier by mid month for northern Utah, which is something we didn’t see last year. After the late December snow last year the GFS long range showed next to nothing in the long range week after week most of January, February and March. It was only in late March and early April that we had a couple of big storms that saved the season. I remember that all too well.

  • Mikel Mariñelarena

    The apparent demise of the RRR over the Northern Pacific (due to El Niño or not) should help.