January 29, 2015

January's Disappearing Snowpack

January in the Northwest usually brings a rapidly increasing snow pack in the mountains, as illustrated by the typical annual variation at Mount Baker (see below).

But this year, with warm temperatures/rain alternating with dry, high pressure conditions, our snow pack has been on a substantial decline.   

Let me demonstrate this to you.  Below are the NOAA snow depth analyses for December 29, 2014 and today (January 29, 2015).    A huge difference, with FAR more snow a month ago.   The Oregon Cascades have almost nothing on them today and the Olympic Mountain snow pack is hugely down.

The only place where the snowpack is comparable to last year is the northeast Cascades and northeastern Washington.

To really drive home the changes over the past month, let's compare MODIS satellite imagery for December 29th and today.  Over the Olympics, the differences are night and day (see below), with the low-level snow pack virtually gone in today's (the second) image.

Or take a look at the snow distribution over the central Cascades east of Seattle. (There are some clouds as well...they are less structured than the snow fields, which have a dendritic look--with no snow in the valleys).   A month ago, there was lots of snow in the Cascades that extended to relatively low elevations.  In contrast, today, the snow had pulled way back into higher terrain.

You really want to be impressed with the changes?  Here are the before and after satellite photos around Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams.  The low-level snow pack is virtually gone today, while there was plenty in late December.

Or how about the difference between the Mt. Rainier (Paradise) web cams on December 26th and today?  Can you tell the difference?

There will be some light snow in the north Cascades during the next 72 hours, but not enough to make a huge difference.  Here are the predicted snow amounts.  Virtually nothing in the Oregon Cascades, southern WA Cascades, and the Olympics,but the north Cascades and northeastern Washington get 1/2 ft or so.  Southeast BC gets a snow freshening. A pattern we have seen too many times before.

And according the the Climate Prediction Center the temperatures will remain warm over the western U.S. (see map).  Enough to make a skier cry. Thankfully, we have the Seahawks.


  1. Cliff - as a regular xc skier I can tell you last year wasn't much better. Snow didn't arrive in force until mid Feb. By that time only about 6 weeks of skiing remained. This year looks worse. Truth is the last 3 years have seen long stretches of high pressure, both summer and winter. Heat waves in summer, temp inversions and fog in winter. Hate it.

  2. Isn't the Mt. Baker snow pack almost exactly average, per Figure 1?

  3. Steve, That snowpack chart (fig 1) doesn't show 2015.

    You can compare snowpack to previous years and the 30-year median (all for specific stations throughout the Cascades and Olympics) on SNOTEL.

  4. Hands down, this has been the worst winter EVER. Mother nature has given all the snow I've wanted to the East Coast! *shakes a fist*

  5. Anyone have a recent look at the Hurricane Ridge cam? http://www.nps.gov/olym/photosmultimedia/hurricane-ridge-webcam.htm

    Its only grass and even this south facing area usually has something on it. This year is definitely far worse than last year at this point. December barely got the resorts going and then these patterns of rain with high snow levels followed by high pressure has put the nail in the coffin recently... lets hope for a February like last year where we had 10 feet in 10 days up at Stevens Pass

  6. I live of the grid at 2800' above salmon la sac for the last 20 years i have never thought we would have 2 years back to back low snow years this confirms for me that global warming is a reality and our water supply is at risk for the near future unless we address this situation now the future of our farming is in a crisis we need to build more water storage facility's


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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