December 20, 2012

The Northwest Leads the Nation in Snow

With winter beginning tomorrow, it is a suitable time to recognize that the Northwest not only leads the nation in aircraft production, apple harvests, PC software, and hydropower, but something even more important: snow.   Take a look at the official snow depth map from the NOAA/NWS National Snow Analysis
The purple colors are the heaviest snow on the map, virtually all of it over the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and southern B.C.   Yes, I have to give credit to our neighbors to the north (but that is a short drive for us anyway).

How does the current snow pack compare to normal?  Be prepared to be impressed!

Nearly all of Washington State is very much above normal, with nearly 250% of normal in the Olympics and around 150% of normal in the Cascades.  The northern Rockies are in good shape too.  Another winner is the Sierra, with roughly 150% of normal near Tahoe.  Poor Colorado, they are substantially below normal, but they did get quite a bit recently.

This year we not only have a lot of snow, but the quality is very good....loads of powder because the fresh stuff of the past week has not been rained on and then refrozen.  Our local ski resorts are distributing images of fantasy powder skiing, like this:

Picture courtesy of Steven Pass
and the descriptions of the snow conditions suggest a chance of the lifetime:

"Tuesday was a powder feast with the best snow conditions many of us have ever skied. It was deep, light and bottomless. Smiles were large, high fives were in abundance and the words "best day ever" were heard as skiers and boarders gathered at the end of the day." 

You could imagine appropriate triumphal music in the background.

We have had so much snow lately that one ski area (Baker) is closed.  The heavy snow of the past week has caused at least one hundred trees to fall along the Mt. Baker Highway, closing the road, probably through the weekend.   Pretty frustrating, considering there is a 150 inch base at Baker's Heather Meadow ski area.
The road to Mt. Baker (courtesy of WSDOT)

So will the gods of snow continue this boon to local skiers?  Grease your skis and prepare your bindings. Here are the 500 hPa  upper level charts for two times during the next week.  We will consistent troughing (low pressure) over the eastern Pacific, which produces a cold, showery pattern over the region.  Continuous accumulation of snow.  No warm rain to ruin things. The jet stream and main action will go south of Washington, and southern Oregon and northern CA should get some historic quantities.

 To show you this, here are the snow forecasts for the next two 72 h periods from the UW WRF model forecasts.  For the next few days the Sierra and Siskiyou Mts. will get hammered with many feet of snow (yards in some places).   We will slowly enhance our snowpack and BC/norther Rockies will get substantial amounts.

 For the second 72 hour period the snow accumulation is more evenly distributed up and down the coast, with over a foot of snow enjoyed by all.  Eastern Washington and Oregon get plenty.

 All and all, a nice Holiday gift for those who enjoy winter recreation, and the amounts should not be heavy enough to mess up the roads.


  1. Alas, the weather has *greatly* impacted Baker ~ closed for three days now due to hundreds of fallen trees and subsequent road closure. A powder lover's worst nightmare!

  2. A decent portending of a better, near-future consolidation of cold, higher, together along with extreme high latitudes West more climatic view, perhaps.

  3. Cliff,
    This is why I read your blog. Very informative, entertaining, and information I just can't get anywhere else!

    Thank you.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Cliff - you confused me. You mention that Northern CA will get 'historic quantities' but end saying is should not be enough to mess up the roads. We will be driving from Eugene to SFO Sunday (weather permitting) so I've been following the weather closely. Part of I-5 is currently closed in northern CA. I'll just have to check conditions Sunday morning and make a decision.

  6. They are really hoping to have Baker open by Saturday. Really depends on the DOT, who have been working hard to clear the roads these last few days, if Mt. Baker will be open this weekend. They have been updating regularly the last few days. =)

    Best to check their web site:

  7. So if we don't care about snow (I don't, much), this means more 40s and lots of rain down here, right. *sigh* We have actually had more rain this year than Raleigh, NC... we're supposed to get 10" LESS than them.

  8. Ok...Cliff...I'm thinking it's an error but I was looking at the NWS long range forecast for the end of this week/weekend....


    Mostly cloudy with a chance of rain. High of 45F. Winds less than 5 mph. Chance of rain 20%.

    Wednesday Night

    Partly cloudy. Low of 25F. Winds less than 5 mph.


    Partly cloudy. High of 43F. Winds less than 5 mph.

    Thursday Night

    Clear. Low of 27F. Winds less than 5 mph.


    Clear. High of 41F. Winds less than 5 mph.

    Friday Night

    Clear. Low of 23F. Winds less than 5 mph.


    Partly cloudy. High of 34F. Winds less than 5 mph.

    Saturday Night

    Clear. Low of 14F. Winds less than 5 mph.


    Clear. Fog early. High of 23F. Winds less than 5 mph.

    Sunday Night

    Clear. Fog overnight. Low of 30F. Winds less than 5 mph.


    Partly cloudy. High of 34F. Winds less than 5 mph.

    Monday Night

    Partly cloudy. Low of 30F. Winds less than 5 mph.


    Clear. High of 34F. Winds less than 5 mph.

    Clear...with lows in the 20's...that's not unheard of but 14 on Saturday night???!!!! And highs of 34? Is this correct? They didn't mention it in the long range portion of their written forecast....

  9. I don't care for the cold or snow mutch but then again I live in Illinois and so far so wonderful, but everyone keeps saying that we will get hit wors in Jan. or Feb. well if we do we do wouldn't be the first time. so bing it on....

  10. That's all good and well for the mountains, but what about us non-skiing lowland dwellers?
    Any chance this winter of some white stuff? Maybe a few days out of school?


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