November 16, 2014

Skiing this Thanksgiving. Is there any hope?

For Northwest residents thinking of skiing over Thanksgiving in the Cascades, you better be ready with other options. 

The Cascade Mountain snowpack right now is sparse, far worse than last year.  Yes, Thanksgiving downhill skiing is always iffy in our region, but usually there is enough for some cross country fun.   But this year is questionable.  Only places that can make snow (like Whistler) have a decent chance of opening soon.  But there is a glimmer of hope...

Not much snow at the top of Crystal Mountain

Paradise Visitor Center on Mt. Rainier.  One of the snowiest places on the planet.  Usually.

In October we had lots of precipitation, but we were also very warm, so that even higher elevations had rain.

Then during the past week we have been very cold, but also very dry except for a band of light snow in northern Oregon a few days ago.

Let's look at the latest snow depth analysis from NOAA.   Here is the snow depth analysis for today (Nov. 16th).    Very little in the Washington Cascades, but some light snow over the northern Oregon Cascades and northeastern Oregon.  Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood, which got a piece of this, only has 9 inches on the ground.  But there is one place that did well during this event:  Mt. Batchelor, with roughly 2 feet.

To give you some perspective on the current situation, here are the snow depth analysis for exactly the same date in 2013, 2012, and 2011.  A LOT MORE in the Washington Cascades.

 We are now close enough to Thanksgiving for our models to have some skill.  But first lets look at the Climate Prediction Center forecasts for the 6-10 day outlook.  Oh, oh...warmer than normal.

Virtually all our models and ensembles suggest a major shift for us.  The cold air is history.   In fact, the air above us has ALREADY warmed a great deal.  At around 5000 ft. it is about 15-20F warmer than yesterday.  Here is the proof--the temperatures at Paradise Mt. Rainier (5500ft) are approaching 40F...about 20 F warmer than yesterday.

Let's take a look at some of the latest model runs.

Here is the upper level map (500 hPa) for today.  Big ridge over the West Coast.  Dry.

By Tuesday at 4 PM, a modest trough undercuts the ridge, to bring clouds and precipitation to northern CA.  But the ridge holds over us.

The precipitation over the next 72h reflects this.  Those poor devils in California need all the precipitation they can get.

Then a series of weak weather disturbances break through later in the week...we get wet, but will be warm.  Not good for snow at ski areas or the passes.
So no snow through Friday.

The only hope is that some of the models are suggesting a major shift late next week, with the jet stream barreling in on us.  Here is the  500 hPa  upper level forecast (solid lines are heights)  for Saturday AM from the U.S. GFS model

and the European Model at 4 PM Saturday for the same level (ensemble forecast on left, high resolution on the right).  Similar idea.

With the jet stream (where the lines are crowded together) somewhat south of us, it would be cool enough to snow in our mountains.  Here is the snowfall prediction from the UW WRF model for the 72 h period ending 4 PM Saturday.   FINALLY, some snow in the Washington Cascades.

A start.

Mt. Batchelor conditions Monday AM.  The best around....


  1. Every long-term forecast I see (6-10, 8-14, monthly) continues to scream warm and wet. It will take a pattern shift of epic proportions to get a lot of snow below 5,000 ft, which is what we need. Still, the long-range forecasts essentially missed the latest cold snap. If precip had played out a little more north, with the cold air damming up against the east side of the Cascade crest, we would be in a very different situation right now.

  2. Yesterday I hiked Mt Townsend in the northeast Olympics to the peak at about 6,300 feet. Normally at this point in November only snowshoes would be acceptable footwear and the mountain would be snow-bound, but as we figured, even the peak had only about an inch or two of snow.
    Not the best start to the snow season! Let's hope for better in the future.

  3. I skied #teacupnordic on Mt Hood today. 8 inches of snow had been groomed to early season perfection. About 12 Km tracked and packed for skating and classic skiing. Lots of visitors. It might melt away by end of week but will certainly be good Monday and Tuesday. For info follow twitter #mthoodskixc

  4. The big question, as always Cliff.....
    Should we buy a Seasons Pass this year?
    Thanks! Skier Jay

  5. To Sysiphus, I don't think the long-range forecasts figured on a super-typhoon transitioning into the Bering Sea and changing weather over most of North America. Weather as opposed to climate, albeit a long-lasting disturbance.

    Otherwise, the long-range climate models have looked pretty good to me since summer.

    I'm ready for warm and moist. Cold, clear and dry is all well and good for a bit, just like summer heat, but I'm ready for more typical November weather.

  6. I'm not optimistic about ski season at this point. But it can be a long winter...the snow wasn't great until February last year but at least there was some.

    Skier Jay, you might want to consider the options available at Steven's or Crystal for 4-5 days. We buy our season passes in the spring to save money. Fingers crossed.


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