December 26, 2018

Mountain Snowpack Update

Few measures of our weather/climate are more closely followed then our mountain snowpack, which brings us both recreation and water resources.

There are, of course, some concerns for this this winter, since we expect El Nino conditions for the second half of our cool season, with El Ninos generally associated with lower snowpack on April 1.  El Nino effects on our snowpack are most profound after January 1, so it is useful and important to know where we are now.

So let's take a look!

The latest USDA Snotel (December 25) reports shows near-normal conditions east of the Cascade crest, which is very important for water resources there.  Near normal in the Olympics and in eastern Oregon, and normal to above normal in the Sierra Nevada.  Colorado is in very good shape.  In contrast, the western slopes of the Cascades in Oregon and southwest WA are below normal (roughly 60-80%).  Overall, we are in decent shape.

Our snowpack has come a LONG way from the low-snowpack conditions of November and early December, when high pressure was persistent (but with more sun as a result!)  I will demonstrate this  by showing you the amount of water in the snowpack (snow water equivalent or SW) from  last night at 10 PM (left panel) versus one month ago (right panel) from the NOAA National Snow Analysis (below)   Wow...big improvement!  Enough to make skiers smile.

Compared to last year (a La Nina year), our high mountain snowpack is as good or better (see last year on December 16th below), but there was unusual lower elevation snow last year (remember the White X-Mass last year)? 

What about the forecasts for the upcoming week?    For a change, lets look at the accumulated forecasts from the European Center model.  Over the next to days,  they are going for light snow in the mountains, with a low-snow level (2-8 inches in the mountains)

 But there will be MUCH more over the next week, with as much as 2-3 feet total snowfall above roughly 5000 ft.

The bottom line is that our mountain snowpack will start the El Nino season in relatively good shape .

And skiers can get out and enjoy decent conditions, particularly in places like Mt. Baker, Crystal Mt and Whistler, which have plenty to snow.

Finally, I really enjoyed reading the ski area snow reports and particularly love the enthusiasm of the Mt. Baker folks, who are barely able to contain themselves regarding the powder (POW) on their slopes.  Check out the video below.

Dec. 24 Powder & Sunshine from Amy Trowbridge on Vimeo.


  1. The latest medium range outlook from the CPC isn't very optimistic:A/B temps and precip.One of the models will be wrong!

  2. I hate El Nino winters. The chance of lowland snow usually ends in mid-February (with some notable exceptions!). El Nino pushes that back to January. My kids are too young to even know what a good snowstorm around here looks like (and I don't mean 1 to 2 inches that is slush within a day). El Nino pushes the odds that they'll be waiting till next Winter again. Oh well, we have to have another good, regional snowstorm again at some point right...right? :)

  3. After years of comparison I'm convinced that the Euro model is superior to the NWS. They may not always be correct, but they seem to be on target much more often.

  4. The Blob is dead, I'm bracing for winter to finally settle in.

  5. There are a couple weeks left before Spring starts. Do not be so fast to count lowland snow out just yet or some flavor of lowland frozen event. This winter so far has been full of surprises. Some fun...and some not so much....

    At least the winter bills are lower. Now there is more left to pay for another hot, arid summer.

  6. Thanks for the larger Pacific NW snow pack images. Here in Oregon the picture is slowly improving. Two critical basins, the Willamette and Hood, Sandy, Lower Deschutes came up to 62% and 60% (snow water equivalent) respectively yesterday. The rest listed on NRCS Snotel are generally in pretty good shape.

    From what I have read around El Nino/La Nina the weak versions seem to be less predictive of rainfall than strong. As all indications are this is a weak El Nino year, I nourish my hopes for decent winter rains.

    One of the features I miss from the old Oregon Climate Service pages was the statistical look at what has occurred under the different ENSO scenarios around here.

  7. The USDA numbers have, in the past, understated water resources. People should go back to the 15/16 season and read about it, it was a joke.

    The other sources I am seeing now – based on Dec snowfall - do not agree with the 81% swe figure for the western central Cascades, in fact not close.

    The Oct-Dec period at Seatac will finish the year at 100%. The opposite was predicted, and we heard a lot of fear and mis/disinformation on it… all while the Cascades were drenched. Why weren’t we told about the billions of gallons spilled from our reservoirs multiple times this fall?

    The good news in all of this: Seattle water supply is as much as done for 2019. It would take an unprecedented, historical dry spell (months in a row without precip this spring) to change that.

    I wish we heard more good news, because we have plenty of it here. It is disturbing that our media, and others, feel the need to make our weather (and water supply) a crisis – or predict a crisis - at every turn. The vast, vast majority of these statements and predictions are proven wrong, as they were once again this fall. We live in a blessed area of the world… a mild climate that makes our winters bearable and our summers beautiful... something to be thankful for every day.

  8. Portland snowfall totals by decade:

    1871-1880 = 183.2"
    1880-1890 = 183.1"
    1890-1900 = 163.7"
    1900-1910 = 76.9"
    1910-1920 = 118.5"
    1920-1930 = 98.6"
    1930-1940 = 98.4"
    1940-1950 = 93.2"
    1950-1960 = 84.1"
    1960-1970 = 67.1"
    1970-1980 = 50.1"
    1980-1990 = 40.0"
    1990-2000 = 44.1"
    2000-2010 = 45.1" (through Jan 31st 2010)

  9. sun snow 12 says:

    "The vast, vast majority of these statements and predictions are proven wrong....."

    I would be extremely impressed if the above statement of "vast, vast majority" could be even remotely proven correct.

    Prediction, by its very definition, implies imperfection in realized outcomes. I remain perpetually amused (bemused? Alarmed? Dissmayed?) that this simple fact remains a point of hostile disrespect for so many, despite the fact their lives have measurably improved beyond all historical record entirely due to these and so many more imperfect predictions.

    Which also seem to require outrageous hyperbole far worse than most any Headline in the Seattle Times!

  10. Snotel measurements are subject to a lot of quality control efforts. There are no compelling reasons to call into question the veracity of the data nor the reliability of the technology.

  11. I think the long-range forecasting for this winter has been pretty decent at my location.

    Here in Sequim, on Bell Hill, on a normal winter, we get approx. 6.2 inches combined during October, November and December. So far, we're at approx. 4.5 inches for those three months, with a couple of additional mild periods of rain forecasted before the end of this month. So likely we will stay slightly behind normal. Maybe 5 inches.

    Long-term forecasts that I saw back in September called for normal to a bit drier during those three months -- compared to usual. And a bit warmer.

    So far, that sounds about right.

  12. Funny, you seemed to have left out the most critical part of the source you just listed -

    PDX Winter Snowfall Averages (through Jan 31st 2010). Period of record 1871-2010

    09/10 = 13.8" (through Jan 31st 2010)
    02/03 = 13.7"
    08/09 = 12.1"
    05/06 = 11.2"
    01/02 = 9.2"
    06/07 = 9.0"
    03/04 = 8.2"
    04/05 = 7.3"
    00/01 = 6.6"
    07/08 = 5.4"

    Why the omission?

  13. "Why the omission?"

    Because I didn't understand the numbers. Looks like seasonal totals rather than averages, and PDX has not been around that long (1871 - 2010?).

    If totals, it doesn't jive with the per decade chart.

  14. "There are no compelling reasons to call into question the veracity of the data..."

    Sure, that's the same line of unquestioning and blind obedience we heard so many times in the past, whether it was the disgraced "hockey stick" of Michael Mann's or the suddenly missing data from the IPPC's report indicating an oncoming AGW catastrophe. Interesting that when independent researchers asked to test their result in order to replicate their conclusions they came up with the hallowed excuse of "our storage discs were damaged." Because scientists are never wrong and never infallible...unless they disagree with our own biases.

  15. Joseph

    "I'm not sure what point you were making by presenting that data..."

    Local climate change - an excellent conversation starter!

  16. Who knows?

    The wild guess crew certainly doesn't..... even if their spin of the bottle eventually lands lucky

  17. Bruce - I said statements and predictions. Just the 2015-2016 water year should be enough to "remotely" (your hyperbole) prove that. But take a look at this comment section sometime. Yes, the vast majority of the statements on water supply - particularly in the fall (every year) - are negative and ultimately wrong. So much so that it is 100% predictable - a prediction that was accurate, so you got me there.

    gnolan - Go back and take a look at what the USDA was reporting in the 2015/2016 year. I'm not sure how anyone who went through that would look at anything they publish the same again. That was the "wet -drought" year. So yes, I don't doubt they have quality control. But I still question those maps based on that (and independent sources like SPU, WSDOT, ski areas, local sources, and my own experience), and everyone should. In fact... everyone should question everything. Particularly these days.

    Happy New Year to Cliff and all of you here. Here's to a weather year that rains when it is supposed to and is sunny even more! And Sulla - I'm pulling for your snowstorm, but if it happens please make it go away within 3 days.

  18. sunsnow12 said...

    "* * * I wish we heard more good news * * *"

    I suppose we all wish there was more good news on the subject of the snowpack in the western U.S. Unfortunately, the news has been anything but good going back to the 1950's.

    With respect to Washington and Oregon, the authors in the first paper cited above state:

    "In Oregon and Washington, declines [in average April 1 snow water equivalent] predominate, but VIC suggests increases in the eastern Cascades of southern Oregon and the southern part of the Olympic Mountains * * *."

    As stated in the Fourth National Climate Assessment in its discussion of effects specifically pertaining to the Northwest:

    "Warmer winters have led to reductions in the mountain snowpack5,6 that historically blanketed the region’s mountains, increasing wildfire risk (Ch. 6: Forests, KM 1)7,8 and speeding the usually slow release of water for communities, agriculture, rivers, and soils. In 2015, record winter warmth led to record-low snowpack in much of the Northwest’s mountains as winter precipitation fell as rain instead of snow,9 resulting in drought, water scarcity, and large wildfires that negatively affected farmers, hydropower, drinking water, salmon, and recreation."

  19. Your sources are compromised, NOAA is the leading authority cited and was previously caught using a discredited study in order to propagate their own politically - motivated agenda:

    They're big - time BS artists when it serves their agenda, you should know better, try harder next time.

  20. Anything but good Mac? You mean like snowpack increasing in the Cascades since the 70's? -

    Curious.... why did you go to those other sources when you are posting on the Cliff Mass blog and Cliff has a recent, transparent, and much more positive (and believable) analysis?

    Perfect example of what I am talking about. And the beat goes on.

  21. Interesting data on Portland. Some of it has to be run through a few filters though.

    For starters: Krakatoa.
    There is also the question of where the measurements were taken and if they were constant for all data points. Portland is anything but uniformly flat.
    Then there is the heat island effect as Portland experiences the transformation from being a frontier outpost to a large modern urban area.

    There is no doubt the data shows a definitive downward trend, but as always there is a bit more to the numbers than meets the eye.

    1. BAMCIS

      I think you're at least partly right about Krakatoa. Not so much the UHI part. The whole region seems to have been colder back in the day:

      "After these two reports, three more accounts of the river (Columbia) freezing were recorded from the span of 1919-1930. In 1930 the river froze almost completely solid. So solid, in fact, that citizens took their cars out and drove on it. On January 31, 1930 a man by the name of Clarence Murray used the river as a temporary runway to land his small two man plane on."

  22. Eric Blair said...

    "Your sources are compromised, NOAA is the leading authority cited and was previously caught using a discredited study in order to propagate their own politically - motivated agenda:

    They're big - time BS artists when it serves their agenda, you should know better, try harder next time."

    I do not have the time or space to respond to your repetition of former House Member Lamar Smith's (R, Texas) previous attack on NOAA, science, and global warming research. Needless to say, this retired house member has a very long anti-science and anti-climate change record and worked hard to manufacture research scandals about NOAA to advance his anti-global warming view. One of the outlets for his views is Breitbart. He is fond of quoting Scripture in support of his positions on various topics. Those who are interested can find out for themselves about Mr. Alexander's record on scientific matters.

    Further, the idea that everything done by NOAA is falsified and that as a result no NOAA research can be relied upon is just plain nonsense. Frankly, that notion is a howler and has no support or acceptance in the scientific community. The amount of credible scientific research either conducted by or sponsored by NOAA is monumental.

    I noticed that you did not respond to the two snowpack research papers cited my me (Philip W. Mote, corresponding author and former colleague of Dr. Mass at the University of Washington). It is the research conducted by Dr. Mote and the substantial number of colleagues who work in this field that make up the research sources referred to in the Fourth National Climate Assessment and provide the support for the NCA conclusions. The NCA itself contains extensive citations to its sources and detailed explanations of all of its methodologies. You should also be aware that University of Washington researchers were major contributors to the Northwest segment of the NCA.

    So, perhaps next time, you could actually respond to the substance of the cited research rather than trying to get everyone off track into a new shiny object political discussion.

  23. And to further nail the coffin shut, please peruse the following wiki page on the esteemed but not particularly competent Lemar Smith:

    "As the Head of the House Science Committee, Smith has been criticized for his position on climate change and for receiving funding from oil and gas companies.[2][3][4][5][6][7] He was formerly a contributor to Breitbart News.[8]"

    And you say that MAC's sources are compromised????

  24. Curious comments here. Who knew the USDA and NOAA were out to mislead us with their misguided agendas?

    Interesting article on the OPB web site: "How Thick Forests Can Reduce Snowpack" ( The article reports on research by Anne Nolin from University of Nevada, Reno, a member of a group of scientists modeling the Willamette Valley’s watershed. They presented at this year's AGU conference. The article is not advocating increased logging but rather attention to forest health at lower elevations.

    Apropos MAC from Bellingham's post this statement stood out: "Recent droughts have caused the reservoir (Detroit Lake) to empty entirely, leaving little water for people who live downstream or for salmon. Salem gets most of its drinking water from the Santiam. At Santiam Junction, near the headwaters of the North Santiam River, researchers have measured the snowpack on April 1 every year since 1941. In that period, snowpack has declined by 70 percent.

  25. "Your sources are compromised"

    What's up, Eric? You've seen Cliff cite NOAA hundreds/thousands of times, including on this problem, and nothing but praise for Cliff.

  26. sunsnow12 said...

    "Anything but good Mac? You mean like snowpack increasing in the Cascades since the 70's? -

    Curious.... why did you go to those other sources when you are posting on the Cliff Mass blog and Cliff has a recent, transparent, and much more positive (and believable) analysis?"

    First, I was responding to your comments asserting there is no long-term snowpack problem in the Northwest. I was not disagreeing with the most recent posting by Dr. Mass about the current state of the snowpack. These are different issues. You are the one who has again raised the long term issue, and I thought it deserved a response.

    With respect to the earlier blog from Dr. Mass expressing disagreement with the Motes papers on long term decline of the snowpack in the western US, his view is simply a minority opinion by scientists in this field. His earlier blog was in March of this year prior to this November's release of Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which better represents a consensus of climate scientists on this subject.

    Interestingly, even though Dr. Mass's reading of the prior data may be different, his predictions about the future are not:

    "[G]lobal warming will have major impacts on snowpack during future decades and especially after 2050. Increasing CO2 will cause increasing warming during the upcoming century that will reduce snowpack substantially. Some regional climate runs that my group and Professor Eric Salathe completed a few years ago, show major snowpack reductions * * *." [emphasis in original]

    So, to go back to your first comment. I don't think Dr. Mass "feels good" about the long term snowpack situation either.

  27. The debate here on the question " is the western states snowpack declining?" is a fascinating display of nothing more than ascribed credibility of sources. Often, this act of deference is dismissed as the logical fallacy, "appeal to authority" but the truth is when the majority of debaters are not possessing the skills of validation themselves, deference to authority is actually the only reliable heuristic available.

    However when it comes to deciding which authority is more credible, the typical debater assumes the worse possible authority source for this entirely critical decision:


    Exactly how anyone can arrive at a conclusion that one expert source ( Cliff Mass, say) is superior to another ( such as NOAA, or Joe So and So) under such conditions of inadequate skill is inherently the domain of "the gut" or Intuition" or "subconscious bias" or more likely all the above which supplies the "weighting" of whatever conscious rationalizations of data are employed.

    This sub conscious leaning on the scales of judgement often occurs in the presence - yet entirely blind to none the less - of conflicting realities that sit like most any elephant in the room of inconvenient truths. This blindness can be countered by one single critical emotion (intuitive or deliberate) which the scientists have institutionalized as skepticism. However, skepticism is often booted aside entirely if the initial intuitions that are triggered are not intuitions at all - they are biases! Typically we are skeptical only of propositions we dislike, not the ones we are already invested in.

    So anyway, one elephant in the room that popped into my minds was this:

    While one measure of "snowpack" indicates increase, another strongly suggests the opposite.

    That particular contrarian indicator is one that is obvious on a global scale, not just the teeny tiny parochial scale of certain snow stakes scattered across Washington State.

    The contrarian indicator i speak of is the state of the worlds glaciers. Washington glaciers included.

    I won't pretend to be the one to parse these contradictions toward any useful truth ( that being the job of glaciologists, hydrologists, climatologists etc) but I can say that this incoherence clearly indicates that the presences of one particular display and arrangement of data does not in any way indicate "truth" simply because it is the only thing that rings our bell.

    Us - that is those, myself included, who lack the skill and understanding that what is not displayed at all may be far more significant, yet because we fail to see it, we neglect to include it in calculating our conclusions.... unless we deliberately invoke skepticism of not just the story we dislike, but also the one we do.

    Fun eh! You see how basic human psychology is entirely relevant to something as dryly academic as snowpack?

  28. Hey Snape - sure, in many respects NOAA is fine, but when it's politically - appointed leaders are called upon to produce climate assessments in accordance with their benefactors wishes, they've been caught out falsifying data. But you still haven't answered my question regarding why you left out the critical part of the source you cited earlier - how come?

  29. "So, perhaps next time, you could actually respond to the substance of the cited research rather than trying to get everyone off track into a new shiny object political discussion."

    I did respond, and my point was that NOAA has been caught out using falsified data in order to serve an overtly political agenda, which is to be expected when it's leaders are politically - appointed in the first place. Don't you want your scientific community to be objective and bereft of the taint of politics?

    BTW, Cliff pointed out previously the vast discrepancies in the data that the USDA uses to produce their Drought Monitor Index - it's often inaccurate and prone to misuse and hysteria. Oh, but I'm sorry, that doesn't count when the inevitable Greek Chorus of the Earth is Going to Hell in a Handbasket get their collective undies in a knot. No wonder why Dr. Mass gets so much unwarranted abuse these days - any deviation from the approved dictates must be silenced. Trotsky would be so proud.

  30. Eric Blair said...

    "[Quoting MAC in Bellingham]: So, perhaps next time, you could actually respond to the substance of the cited research rather than trying to get everyone off track into a new shiny object political discussion."

    "I did respond * * *."

    It is clear you did not respond to the "substance of the research." I doubt you understand what that means. You made a political response, using a non-credible anti-science politician (Lamar Smith) to bolster an argument that nothing that comes from NOAA is any good.

    On top of that, you apparently do not realize that Dr. Mote is not part of NOAA. He is the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI) and a professor in the Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (and previously a faculty member at the University of Washington).

    So, two major logical disconnects in a row. If you would have commented substantively to Dr. Mote's research, you might have taken issue with his data, methodology, or reasoning, as Dr. Mass did previously. But you did none of these, which would have required some deeper understanding of the issue.

  31. I've got really bad news for you Eric.

    And if only you had read that Wiki page on Lemar Smith, your spidey sense might have sprung to your rescue.

  32. Snape, the data would show a decline anyway. It just that there are some factors present that could be distorting the severity of it and influencing the interpretation.

    1. BAMCIS

      Absolutely. I'm not thinking the decline is all because of more CO2. Really, I just love snow and was amazed to see how much more we used to get.

    2. Eric,
      When Cliff uses NOAA they're fine. When Mote uses NOAA they're compromised. Brilliant.

      "But you still haven't answered my question regarding why you left out the critical part of the source you cited earlier...."

      Yeah, I did. It posted a couple days ago.

  33. To pull back a bit on the Mote et al. paper characterization, I think the main objection was over the use of (if I recall correctly) "dramatic" in the title describing long term decline of snow depths. The data fit clearly showed a negative slope implying of course lower amounts over time. Thus the primary thrust of the paper reflects a proper interpretation of the data.

    (As an aside, over the years data analysis for me has been primarily in the physical sciences so seeing line or curve fitting to numbers with that much scatter kinda always blows me away.)


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