November 09, 2015

Skiing for Thanksgiving? It Looks Very Good!

On Sunday, I attended part of the Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop where roughly 600 skiing enthusiasts were looking hopefully to the upcoming snow season.

But there was some apprehension in the air, which is expected after the lowest snow year of the past half century.  In addition, local ski enthusiasts have been tortured by scarester stories in local media, which paint an ominous picture of drought and El Nino (see below)

But examining the climatology of snow during El Nino years and the latest model output, I have a much more optimistic take:  I believe it is highly probable that some of the higher elevation Northwest ski areas will be open by Thanksgiving, as will several high level cross country ski areas.

So why am I so optimistic?.  I start by nothing that strong El Nino years typically end of with about 80% of normal snowpack and that El Nino effects don't become dominant until after January 1.

Second, the storm of last weekend established a good base in many locations.    To illustrate, here is the latest snow map from NOAA National Water Center (left panel).  Many locations on the high volcano peaks and the north Cascades have more than 10 inches. Some twice as much.  Compare that to last year at the same, when there was hardly any! (right panel).

Take a look at a recent cam shots at Whistler and Mount Baker.   Clearly, a very good start.

But now get prepared for a rush of snow fever.  Here is the snow total forecast for the the next 72 hr
(ending 4 AM Friday) from the UW WRF model. TWO to THREE  feet around Whistler and the north Cascades.  Even those poor devils in Oregon get a few inches.  Nice snowfall on the Olympics.

The next 72 hr? (ending 4 AM Monday). MORE SNOW.  Particularly over British Columbia, the north Cascades, and some mountain locations near the Oregon/CA border.  British Columbia get buried.

In short, with the current base in place, this forecast suggest enough snow to allow Whistler, Baker, and possibly Stevens to open. And I know I am leaving out some others.

My colleagues at the National Weather Service have put out a Winter Storm Watch for the Cascades for 10-18 inches

And the forecasts far into the future indicate a general cool-down preceding Thanksgiving.  For example, here is the last North American ensemble system prediction for the next few weeks at Seattle.  A distinct cool down after Nov. 14th.
In addition, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center is going for wetter and cooler than normal for 8-14 days out (see below).

In summary, the meteorological stars are aligned for substantial snows in the mountains during the next week and cooler weather that will stay in place for a while.  There will be skiing for Thanksgiving if you want to enjoy it.   Contrary to what some media outlets and advocacy groups are saying, last year was an anomaly and this year should be very different.   And many of you will be enjoying the proof in a few days.


  1. Fantastic! Thanks for the great news, Cliff.

  2. Will our skiing be interrupted by an earthquake? Are earthquakes weather related?

  3. Looks like the forecasts are now calling for lower snow amounts tonight/tomorrow and then rain in the mountains Thursday night through Saturday. I, for one, hope your blog post is more accurate!

  4. I'm with Kevin. Hoping you are right but at least at Steven's, the current forecast is for many, many inches of rain this weekend. It would wipe out all the snow to date. Fingers crossed. Hope it's snow further south but good for Baker and Whistler.

  5. @MarkM, that page has so many hallmarks of conspiracy/pseudo-science writing that it actually makes a good case study:

    Mention of govt programs favored by conspiracy theorists (HAARP)... check.

    Multiple issues with spelling and grammar... check.

    Backhanded appeals to authority, in this case claims of changeability on the part of mainstream/authoritative sources ("USGS used to dismiss this, but now they are not so sure")... check.

    A prediction which is so vague that it cannot be falsified*... oh yeah!

    *Surely the author realizes that there are many earthquakes every day in the specified region? Without a magnitude bracket there will be no way to say that the prediction failed or succeeded. At least there is a time window (one week); earthquake-prediction hucksters often omit that as well, or produce so many predictions that at least one is guaranteed to have been "active" when a damaging quake inevitably does occur.

  6. Nice! Pretty rare to see 8-14's like that the past few winters

  7. Looking at the temperature outlook, am I reading this correctly that there will be several days on the latter half of November where the temperature is expeted to drop below freezing here in Seattle? I am all for snow for skiing in the mountains, but not ice cold here in the city. And it's still not even winter yet!


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