Avalanche Awareness in the news
Avalanche safety has been making the news more than ever this season. Given a few recent high profile avalanche accidents (Wyoming avalanche, Utah avalanche, BC avalanche) and a highly variable and generally shallow snowpack across much of North America, avalanche safety is on the minds of many. In addition, there's more interest and effort than ever by the media and avalanche pros around the country to share the message of caution and snow safety.
Since the skiing here in the Northwest leaves a lot to be desired at the moment, I took some time to collect a few good articles related to avalanche education, awareness and professional perspectives related to the current snowpack around North America. Start the New Year with a dose of wisdom related to human factors, shoveling, variable snowpacks and first hand accounts:
Canadian Avalanche Center's Karl Klassen on variable, early season conditions
Human factors explored and summarized
Utah Avalanche Center's Bruce Tremper on the Culture of Shame
Shoveling 101 by Backcountry Access
First-hand accounts from Wyoming and Utah incidents
Further reading on the variable weak layers in British Columbia
La Nada, White Grass and more
If you have not yet heard, it's official - at least for the time being according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, the forecasted El Nino influence has drifted into La Nada. In other words, there is currently little or no significant ENSO influence on our winter this season. For those not in the know, ENSO can directly influence western snowpacks - read our archived ENSO article. The lack of a significant El Nino or La Nina influence actually means that long-term forecasting is even trickier than normal. When we have a significant ENSO influence, the climate folks seem to find it easier to forecast long-term trends. The absence of the influence means it's even more of a dice roll than normal! Average winters in these parts can be pretty good, so we'll keep our fingers crossed as the snowpack starts to grow.
Following in the theme of global weather wierdness, Hurricane Sandy delivered a snow storm for the record books in West Virginia while it was devestating the barrier islands of the coast. Our friend Chipper Chase, dedicated ski freak and long-time proprietor of White Grass in West Virginia's Canaan Valley, saw a record early opening and a host of dedicated ski freaks descend upon White Grass thanks to the nearly three feet of snow that Sandy delivered. Here's to global weather wierdness in the name of freak snowstorms!
Despite having lost power and less than ideal road conditions, Chip reports that he had more skiers from afar than he had locals. Ski culture lives in the East, and dedicated folks rallied for the once-in-a-lifetime Halloween ski experience at White Grass. According to Chipper, he was able to patch things together at the last minute to get the ski area safe and ready in such short order and so early in the season. Of course, Chipper served up the legendary hospitality for which White Grass is famous. The bounty of snow has delivered two weekends of excellent skiing at White Grass. Here are few shots of the local scene . . . courtesey of the man himself, Chipper Chase . . .
ENSO update - La Nada
Fall has finally arrived here in the Pacific Northwest with the first significant storms of the fall season. I spied a dust of fresh snow around 9,000 feet this weekend, but snow levels remain high. Nonetheless, the return to a more seasonal wet flow feels good and lends a certain ski season feel to the air.
According to the experts at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, the forecasted El Niño is currently showing signs of weakening and settling into ENSO neutral, or La Nada for the time being. The official ENSO watch states, "Borderline ENSO-neutral / weak El Niño conditions are expected to continue into Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13, possibly strengthening during the next few months."
For those who have trouble keeping it straight, El Niño reflects a warming of the equatorial Pacific, while La Niña reflects a cooling. Generally speaking, La Niña is associated with bigger winters, especially here in the Pacific Northwest.
In classic long-term climate speak, the October ENSO report suggests the majority of models indicate borderline ENSO-neutral / weak El Niño conditions will continue, while others suggest that El Niño could still develop, but remain weak. ENSO neutral equates to an average winter with near normal temps and precip. Average in these parts can be pretty darn good, so I'm going with the neutral forecast. The beauty is that there's nothing we can do about it, and the weater will be what it is. Still, I find some odd pleasure in reading what the climate scientists have to say. If you'd like to follow the latest ENSO info, NOAA releases a weekly update on ENSO conditions (on Mondays) and offers a monthly ENSO watch / forecast update.
North American Snow Coverage Maps
It's no secret that the snowpack is less than inspiring in many locations around the US right now (interior BC and Alaska are having great seasons btw). Of course, it's still early, right. It could all turn around any moment. In the meantime, we might as well stew in our misery - check out these maps from the National Weather Service comparing the snowpack as of January 7 for the last three years:
January 7, 2012
January 7, 2011
January 7, 2010
Dear Santa, We Want Snow
Mother Nature is marching to her own drum thus this winter. The Northwest mountains have been uncharacteristically dry and sunny the past few weeks. Snowfall around much of the country has simply stalled out following a nice start to the ski season around Thanksgiving. Sounds like the ridging that has been delivering the dry, high pressure pattern has started to break down in British Columbia, but backcountry skiers further south and east will have to look to Santa for some fresh snow.
Mark Moore at the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center just wrote a great little verse summing up the latest mountain and weather conditions in the Northwest. Check it out . . .
A week before Christmas and thru much of the west—
Lies a shallow snowpack with facets to test.
But before this occurs and sleighs leave the North Pole—
The prevailing west winds need to get on a roll.
Recent ridges have dominated incoming storms—
Along with split flows that make the new norms.
But harken I hear happy bells on the sleigh—
Could it mean a late Christmas is at last on its way?
A bit early to tell, but models look quite alluring—
That colder deep snows we may soon be enduring.
So open your minds to let snowfall within—
For our dreams are a great place to begin.
But remember with snowfall comes a new load—
On all of those weak layers about which we’ve been told.
So increase your caution if your dreams all come true—
Don’t be found in the snowpack, all white and blue.
-written by Mark Moore NWAC
Winter Weather Forecasts
We've all heard that La Nina is forecast to influence our winter weather for a second consecutive ski season this winter. The cooler than average sea surface temps in the Equatorial Pacific mean different things to differrent regions, but for the most part backcountry skiers should be stoked because it normally means a good snow year for most western mountain ranges. I had the opportunity to attend the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society's annual Winter Weather Forecast meeting over the weekend where the pros discussed their takes on our upcoming winter.
Of course, La Nina talk factored heavily into the various discussions. The morning presentations included five different meteorologists' takes on the upcoming winter weather for the Northwest, specifically the greater Portland area. I took away a variety of interetsing facts and opinions from the various discusions, but the big picture theme that resounded through just about every forecast was that we (in the Northwest) can look forward to an above average snow season that is likely to have a slow start and a big finish. Sounds familiar doesn't it. I think we could sum up last season as an above average snow year with a slow start and a big finish.
Predictably, these guys are hesitant to really commit to too many specifics, and they use a lot of language like, "a better than average chance of a higher probability of above normal snowfall . . ." But they did offer up some details about their methods that were cool to hear. The various forecasters all rely on an analog approach where they look for similar historical conditions using a variety of weather indices and then crunch the various data to predict the future weather. A common theme among the various approaches was the similarieties between the approaching 2011 winter with that of 2008. There were a number of other similar years, including '89, '96 and '99, but 2008 was the closest match.
Here in Hood River, 2008 is remembered as the season with a great mid-December cycle that delivered three feet of snow just before Christmas in the low elevations of the Columbia Gorge. The skiing was great on local low-elevation hills, places that normally see little or no significant snowfall. It was, however, not until late January or arguable the first half of February that the upper elevations began to experience quality normal snowfall. In other words, it was a good snow year, but aside from the localized low elevation snow, good mountain snow started slowly and finished strong. If you want to immerse yourself in the various 2011 winter forecasts, you can read them all, along with all of their methods at the American Meteorlogical Society Oregon Chapter's website.
La Nina on Deck
Well, it's official, NOAA has issued a full on La Nina advisory for the approaching winter season. Until recently, NOAA was undecided whether the coming winter would be a neutral year or a La Nina year. The sea surface temps now point toward La Nina, although there is of course still some uncertainty.
I have yet to read anyhting about how significant a La Nina influence is expected, but the climate maps (courtesy of NOAA) all show above average precip and below average temps for the Northwest.
(click on maps below for full size versions)
The last time we saw back to back La Nina winters was 2008 and 2009. But the last time we saw a significant double dip (greater than a 0.5 degree influence) was in 1999 and 2000 - see NOAA chart with historical ENSO index here.
As I recall, 2009 saw a late start for much of the Northwest and some skecthy stability issues in the early season, but it ended up being a decent year. However, as I recall 2000 was not exactly a great year in the Northwest or even parts of BC. Of course, I am no meteoroligist. I am just a skier hoping for the best possible snow conditions. The Climate Prediction Center forecast looks good for a successful winter and is likely more reliable than my not so great memory of past seasons.
I'll post a heads up the next time NOAA updates the forecast. In the mean time, ski movie season is underway.
NOAA Climate Prediction Center Issues La Niņa Watch
Weather geeks unite, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center has issued a La Niña Watch. A watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of El Niño or La Niña conditions within the next six months.
Here is an excerpt from the NOAA report:
ENSO-neutral is expected to continue into the Northern Hemisphere fall 2011, with ENSO-neutral or La Niña equally likely thereafter.
The majority of ENSO models, and all multi-model average forecasts, indicate ENSO-neutral will continue into the Northern Hemisphere fall 2011 (three-month average in the Niño-3.4 index between –0.5oC and +0.5oC). Beyond the early fall, the forecasts are less certain with half of the models persisting ENSO-neutral conditions continuously through early 2012. Along with a few other models, the latest runs from the NCEP Climate Forecast System (CFS) models predict La Niña to re-develop during the fall. This forecast is also supported by the ongoing La Niña-like tropical atmosphere, subsurface temperature trends, and the historical tendency for significant wintertime La Niña episodes to be followed by relatively weaker La Niña episodes the following winter. Therefore, ENSO-neutral is expected to continue into the Northern Hemisphere fall 2011, with ENSO-neutral or La Niña equally likely thereafter.
The Northwest has been having an unusually cool and wet spring and summer this year. The temp outside my office is a mere 65 degrees and it is July 17! I am not really complaining. The weather has been great for riding and working outside. Another side benefit is that our already healthy snowpack from the winter has been lingering much longer than normal. Cold temps mean slow melting snow. This means the summer skiing is better than normal, too.
Check out the following images and stats on the snowpack in the Northwest and beyond. These cool satelite images and weather geek maps paint an amazing picture of the snowpack. Volcano skiing anyone . . .
A July 7 report shows snow-water equivalents over 500% of average in the Northwest!
July 8 snow depth averages in the Northwest.
NASA satelite image shows snowpack on July 6, 2011
image credit NASA/GSFC, Rapid Response
SKi report coming next...
Viva La Nina
As predicted earlier this summer, La Nina appears to be taking shape. In fact, according to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center,
Nearly all models predict La Niña to continue at least through early 2011 (Fig. 6). However, the models continue to disagree on the eventual strength of La Niña. Based on current observations and model guidance, we expect the SST anomalies in the Niño-3.4 region to either persist near the present strength, or to strengthen into the winter as is consistent with the historical evolution of La Niña. Thus, it is likely that the peak strength of this event will be at least moderate (3-month average between –1oC to –1.4oC in Niño-3.4) to strong (3-month average of –1.5oC or less in Niño-3.4).
Expected La Niña impacts during September-November 2010 include suppressed convection over the central tropical Pacific Ocean, and enhanced convection over Indonesia. The transition into the Northern Hemisphere Fall means that La Niña will begin to exert an increasing influence on the weather and climate of the United States. These impacts include an enhanced chance of above-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest, and below-average precipitation in the Southwest and in portions of the middle and lower Mississippi Valley and Tennessee Valley. Also, La Niña can contribute to increased Atlantic hurricane activity by decreasing the vertical wind shear over the Caribbean Sea and tropical Atlantic Ocean (see the August 5th update of the NOAA Atlantic Seasonal Hurricane Outlook), and to suppressed hurricane activity across the central and eastern tropical North Pacific.
Northwest meteorologist Mark Nelson recently posted his take on winter on his weather blog. Nelson's reseacrh shows that we have not had a moderate to strong La Nina event since 1988-89. More recent events have all been light to moderate.
Read more about what La Nina may have in store for your area here.
La Nina in the Works?
According to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center we transitioned out of the El Nino influence in late May. Although many forecasts still call for a neutral ENSO effect for the late summer and fall, NOAA says some data is leaning toward the development of a La NIna influence.
"The majority of models predict ENSO-neutral conditions (between -0.5oC to +0.5oC in the Niño-3.4 region) through early 2011. However, over the last several months, a growing number of models, including the NCEP Climate Forecast System (CFS), indicate the onset of La Niña conditions during June-August 2010. There is an increasing confidence in these colder model forecasts, which is supported by recent observations that show cooling trends in the Pacific Ocean and signs of coupling with the atmospheric circulation. Therefore, conditions are favorable for a transition to La Niña conditions during June-August 2010."
Snow on its way in the NW
National Weather Service forecast looks encouraging...
FALLING SNOW LEVELS BEHIND A COLD FRONT LATE IN THE DAY MONDAY
WILL TURN RAIN INTO SNOW AT CASCADE PASS LEVELS IN NORTH OREGON
AND SOUTH WASHINGTON. SNOW LEVELS WILL DROP AS LOW AS 2500 FEET
LATE MONDAY NIGHT. SNOW SHOWERS MONDAY NIGHT INTO TUESDAY WILL
BRING THE POTENTIAL FOR A SIGNIFICANT EARLY SEASON SNOWFALL...WITH
UP TO A FOOT OF SNOW POSSIBLE ABOVE 4000 FEET BY MIDDAY TUESDAY.
Further El Nino reading
Fall weather is forecast to hit the west coast with some vigor this week. The effects of the front should ripple accross the western states all week. From the forecast discussions, it sounds like the storm is the remnants of a typhoon from the West Pacific. Northern California is due to receive the brunt of the storm, but given its tropical origins, the temps and related snow levels are forecast to remain pretty high.
as per the NWS Tahoe area forecast...
MOISTURE FROM THE REMNANTS OF SUPER TYPHOON MELOR CONTINUES TO MOVE ACROSS THE NORTHERN PACIFIC OCEAN AND IS FORECAST TO REACH THE WEST COAST BY THIS EVENING. THIS MOISTURE WILL COMBINE WITH A POWERFUL JET STREAM TO DEVELOP A STRONG STORM THAT WILL MOVE THROUGH THE AREA. THIS STORM HAS THE POTENTIAL TO PRODUCE A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF PRECIPITATION AND STRONG WINDS FOR INTERIOR NORTHERN CALIFORNIA.
I recently saw some more interesting discussions and stats related to the El Nino influence on the Pacific Northwest. Mark Moore, director of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, wrote a discussion on El Nino influence back in 2007. The article has some interesting precip charts and points readers to Amar Andalkar’s web site which offers additional data on historical snowdepth data.
Thanks to everyone who subscribed during our Mountain Khakis pant give-away. We will contact the 10 lucky winners tomorrow, October 13.
El Nino and your ski season
The Labor Day Weekend forecast for the Cacades is turning very fall-like this weekend. The Northern Oregon forecast includes the following:
AFTERNOON VALLEY TEMPERATURES ARE LIKELY TO REMAIN IN THE 60S
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY...WHILE AFTERNOON TEMPERATURES AT THE CASCADE
PASSES WILL STRUGGLE TO REACH 50 DEGREES ON SUNDAY. SNOW LEVELS
IN THE MOUNTAINS ARE LIKELY TO DROP DOWN TO 6000 TO 7000 FEET
SATURDAY NIGHT THROUGH SUNDAY NIGHT...WITH A FEW INCHES OF SNOW
It is also the time of year that the various winter snow-season predictions begin to fly around the internet. The NOAA Climate and Prediction Center is forecasting an El Nino influence this winter. El Nino is not the most popular of forecasts for NW skiers as the warmer ocean currents associated with El Nino typically impact our freezing levels in the wrong direction. Historically, El Nino can mean above normal precip inthe Rockies, especially the southwest Rockies.
There are, of course, countless places to read about the El Nino Southern Ocilation - commonly known as ENSO - and what it may really mean. A great place to start is the article Demystifying ENSO that appeared in Off-Piste Issue 38 last October.
The Old Farmer's Almanac has their forecast up for the season as well. These guys have been producing longterm seasonal outlooks since the late 1700's. They suggest
Winter temperatures will be above normal, with the coldest periods in early to mid-December and early February. Precipitation will be above normal, with below-normal snowfall from Reno to Salt Lake City and above-normal snowfall in most other areas. The snowiest periods will occur in early and mid-November, mid- and late December, and mid- and late January.
Northwest skiers can read at length about ENSO and its historical influences over Washington and Oregon at skimountaineer.com. There is an interesting ENSO discussion here based on 2004-5 and 05-06 data.
ENSO La Nina El Nino
Following last winter's banner snow season for much of the western US and the predominant La Nina influence that presided over the winter, I frequently hear talk of La Nina and El Nino, and how it may or may not impact the quality of our upcoming snow season. The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) released its ENSO forecast discussion on October 9. The CPC is calling for ENSO neutral influence, at least until early 2009. ENSO, or El Nino/ Southern Ocilation,...
Sun, Rain, Snow, Reports From the Mountains
We are having an incredible round of late summer weather here in Oregon, with some great 30 degree temp swing days (50 at night and 80 during the day). This is not the case everywhere though.
Word from our friends at Alyeska Hostel in Girdwood, AK is 16 consecutive days of rain with the snowline flirting with four thousand feet and no obvious changes in this pattern for the near future. This pattern could offer some early season turns up north.
Another Blast of Winter on its Way
We just had a picture perfect fall weekend here in Oregon (see hood photo above) but it does not look like it will be like this for long. Winter is making another attempt at setting this week. This is from the National Weather Service
...SIGNIFICANT SNOW POSSIBLE IN THE CASCADE PASSES LATER THIS WEEK..
A VERY ACTIVE STORM TRACK IN THE PACIFIC WILL BRING PLENTY OF
VALLEY RAIN AND MOUNTAIN SNOW TO NORTHWEST OREGON AND SOUTHWEST
WASHINGTON THIS WEEK. A SIGNIFICANT COLD FRONT WILL MOVE INTO THE
CASCADES TUESDAY NIGHT AND MAY LOWER SNOW LEVELS TO AROUND 4000 FEET.
SNOW WILL LIKELY INCREASE IN THE CASCADES WEDNESDAY BEFORE FINALLY
TAPERING OFF LATE WEDNESDAY NIGHT. SNOW ACCUMULATIONS COULD RANGE FROM 5 TO 10 INCHES ABOVE 4000 FEET FROM TUESDAY NIGHT THROUGH WEDNESDAY NIGHT IFTHE EVENT UNFOLDS AS ANTICIPATED. A WARM AND WET STORM MAY IMPACT THE AREA ON FRIDAY WITH SNOW LEVELS RISING ABOVE THE PASSES.
The latest cycle to blow through our area gave the mountains a very wintery look. This image of Mount Adams, taken by Darryl Lloyd, was shot right from Darryl's house in Hood River. Darryl has some incredible landscape shots of the region on his website. The current forecast calls for a bit of a freezing level roller coaster (what else is new around here) but there is plenty of precip on its way. We've got sun in town right now but the clouds remain stacked up to the west and north.
La Nina Predictions
The Oregon Climate Center (OCC) recently issued their 2007-08 winter forecast and are anticpating a La Nina influence and this typically means cooler and wetter for the NW US. I try not to put too much hope in a winter forecast made in August/September, but hey, I'm not going to complain, not yet anyway. According to the OCC,
Below are the factors we used to generate this year's forecast, along with the bottom line for this fall and winter:
temperatures will be slightly cooler than...