Will There Be Skiing for Thanksgiving?

November 20, 2014

So far this November has not been kind to the ski areas.  First we had some warm/wet systems, then we turned cold and dry.  Here we are on November 20th and the Mt. Hood ski areas have 6-10″ on the ground at the base.  That’s leftover from the snowfall we had during the metro snow/ice freak out over a week ago.

To do a “full opening”, let’s say 50% of the runs open, the ski areas generally need 2-3 feet of snow on the ground.  Once we get up to a 50″ base, it seems that most runs are open.  That’s generally not too tough to do in late November since the atmosphere is cooling quickly on its way to winter.

You may remember last year was just terrible through January because we had dry conditions…there were just very few storms.

So far this snow season has not been very encouraging; it’s pretty obvious this November is not one of those when the ski season suddenly starts up before Thanksgiving.  Government Camp (on average) gets 32″ of snow in November, so far 12.5″ has fallen in one storm.  I could see another 10″ at Govy this weekend, maybe a bit more if we get lucky.

What’s ahead weatherwise?

  • Mainly rain tomorrow should wash away a few of those 5-10″ on the ground
  • A bunch of snow falls Saturday & Sunday, possibly 12-18″ above 5,000‘, a bit less below.
  • Much warmer air arrives late Monday and whatever falls from that time through Thanksgiving Weekend should be mainly rain. Some models dump a bunch of rain on the mountains later Monday through Wednesday morning, others push the rain north, just leaving us with warm and dry weather for a couple of days.  Warm and humid air is the greatest enemy of the Cascade snowpack, not the weak “winter” sun.  40 degree rain melts a lot more snow than a 55 degree sunny day.  So we want it to stay dry during that time to preserve the snow.
  • There is no other “big Cascade snow pattern” on the maps in the 7-10 day period, in general some sort of ridging or split-flow seems to dominate our weather into early December.

What could this mean for an opening?

  • Mt. Bachelor has already announced an opening for Monday.  They have 18″ and should get another 12-18″ over the weekend.  Looks good for a solid 30-35″ on the ground.  After that most likely dry down there the rest of the week
  • Mt. Hood ski areas should be sitting on 15-20″ by Monday afternoon.
  • IF it stays dry late Monday-Wednesday, I could see at least two ski areas opening some runs for the Thanksgiving Weekend, mainly to claim that early opening but also to give YOU a chance to go experience the first real snow of the season.
  • IF we get a bunch of rain up there during that period, that’s a big problem and I think openings are unlikely.

Here’s the graphic I used on-air tonight:


Keep your fingers crossed!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Freezing Rain Update: Arriving This Evening

November 19, 2014

6pm Wednesday…

If you live above 500′ in the western Gorge or anywhere east of Multnomah Falls, expect a wintry mix of freezing rain, ice pellets, and even a few spots of snow between 7pm now and midnight.  The cold airmass that has been in place for a week is about 3,500′ thick in the central/eastern Gorge and won’t change much in the next 6 hours.

  • Watch out if you’re on I-84 east of Rooster Rock overnight as the freeway will turn increasingly icy as you head farther east.
  • Schools will likely have a late start in much of the Gorge and north-central Oregon.
  • Only slow warming tomorrow without a west wind, but temperatures will rise a few degrees above freezing.

MarkWarnings_FreezingRain_GorgeOnly2 MarkWarnings_FreezingRain_GorgeOnly

The temperatures warmed a few more degrees than I expected at the west end of the Gorge today.  At 6pm it’s 36-37 in Corbett and about the same down at Multnomah Falls.  When the precipitation arrives, the evaporative cooling should drop those locations down to right around freezing.  As a result, anyone below 500′ west of Multnomah Falls probably won’t see freezing rain.

The wind stops late tonight in the Gorge!  After 9 days of gusty wind it’ll be over…this time around at least.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Freezing Rain in Gorge Wednesday Evening

November 18, 2014

Round #2 of wintry weather in the Gorge arrives Wednesday evening.  It’s not going to be a huge event, but freezing rain in mid-late November is still a big event in the Gorge.  It’s only overshadowed by the unusually early season snowfall last week.

  • Avoid travel east of Troutdale on I-84 or Washougal (in Washington) from that time through early Thursday.
  • Strong east winds tomorrow evening will compound the rough driving conditions
  • East wind will come to a screeching halt by Thursday morning!

A band of light rain will move from southwest to northeast across our viewing area, arriving in the Columbia River Gorge sometime after 4pm.  First at the west end and then an hour or two later at the east end. MarkWarnings_FreezingRain_GorgeOnly2

MarkWarnings_FreezingRain_GorgeOnly  Amounts will be light, but only .05″ of freezing rain is enough to make a road a skating rink…it doesn’t take much!

As expected, easterly gradients held strong today with the depth of the cold air just under 4,000′ in the central/eastern Gorge.  It is slightly shallower today, but the warmer temps (inversion) overhead at the west end of the Gorge it causing the flow of air westward to be “choked down” to a smaller area.  Last night the peak gust was 92 mph at Vista House, the strongest recorded there (that we know of) since the sensor was installed a few years ago.  At Corbett the gust to 75 mph was the strongest since last winter!

For the rest of us in the Portland metro area we’ll see just cold rain tomorrow afternoon/evening, temperatures will only move a few degrees above 40.

The really good news is that this system will thin down the cold air east of the Cascades dramatically.  The inversion will almost totally break since the freezing level will fall from around 9,000′ tomorrow morning to 4,500′ Thursday morning.  As a result the pressure difference from east of the Cascades to westside will lower to almost nothing.  Thus the nearly calm wind by Thursday morning.  Enjoy!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Cold East Wind Won’t Stop; Gorge Freezing Rain Wednesday Night

November 17, 2014

It’s been 7 days/nights of cold east wind on the east side of the Portland Metro Area and many of you are tired of it.  This is when I get the “WHEN will it stop???” questions at the coffee place, Freddies…anywhere.  The answer is that we have 2 more days of wind, then it’ll stop Wednesday night.  Here are the peak gusts the past 7 days at PDX and Troutdale Airport.

MarkEastWind_Last6DaysPDX MarkEastWind_Last6DaysTTD

Vista House/Crown Point has been gusting over 80 mph several times in the past few days…definitely a “mid-winter” strength event with 100+ mph on “the steps”.

Yes, it’s annoying, but it’s part of the cold season in our area.   The most densely populated part of the Oregon was settled just downwind from a wintertime wind tunnel; the Columbia River Gorge.  It is what it is.  If you REALLY hate it, live somewhere west of I-205 and you won’t feel it as often.  It’ll just be a little chilly and breezy and you won’t get sandblasted by dirt just getting out of your car in a parking lot.

What’s different this year is the timing…it’s just the middle of November and the wind strength/duration is what we would see in December or January.  It’s because of the cold air that has settled into the lower elevations of eastern Oregon/Washington.  Look at the dramatic change in high temperatures at The Dalles the past 13 days.  We’ve gone straight from October to January!


Right now the depth of the cold air is holding steady at just under 4,000′ eastside.  We can tell by looking at higher elevations in the Gorge and down into north-central Oregon.  The cold air sure isn’t going anywhere either, especially with lots of snow-covered ground to our east in those areas.  Models often try to weaken the strong high pressure eastside too quickly in these situations.

A splitting & weak weather system swings up from the southwest on Wednesday, sending precipitation overhead.  it’s pretty obvious that it’ll be rain in the Portland metro area, but it’s equally obvious it’ll be freezing rain or snow in the Gorge.  The airmass up above 4,000′ will be above freezing, so snow will be real spotty over there, mainly just freezing rain and sleet this time around.  It is a very weak system so total accumulation of anything will be light.  So this sure won’t be a big storm, but just 10 minutes of freezing rain can bring a freeway to a halt.  Especially since surfaces will be quite chilly in the Gorge from the past 6 days of cold temps.

There will be a slow warmup with above freezing temps Thursday, but no west wind until Friday or Saturday.  Those of you out in the Gorge know you don’t REALLY warm up until the west wind kicks in.


  • It’ll be too warm in the metro area (including Troutdale/Gresham/Camas) for freezing rain Wednesday night.  Just a cold light rain.
  • Light freezing rain, or ice pellets, arrives in the Gorge during the evening (well after school gets out).  It’ll stay frozen during the night.
  • Could be snow near Cascade Locks/Stevenson…maybe
  • Not a whole lot of anything though
  • Freshly iced roads possible for much of Gorge Thursday morning.  Not sure if west end (Corbett) will warm during the night a few degrees.
  • Warming above freezing all parts of Gorge Thursday, but still in 30s

By the way, assuming the ECMWF is reasonably accurate, we could get a decent dumping of snow on Mt. Hood this weekend.  Snow levels around Government Camp elevation and 12-20″ new snow.  That would be on top of the 8-10″ at the resorts right now.  If this comes to fruition, I can see some partial openings for Thanksgiving weekend.  And by that I mean at least 2-3 lifts at Timberline and Meadows.  The GFS is not as promising, including the 00z run which has rain at ski resorts Friday PM and just 5-10″ this weekend and the middle of next week (total).  That model would imply we slowly sputter towards a reasonable base sometime in early December.  I’ll take the ECMWF instead…


Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Oregon Coast & Central Oregon: Worst Radar Coverage in The Country

November 14, 2014

Cliff Mass up at the UW just blogged about something the meteorological community already knows in Oregon…we’ve been left out in the cold with radar coverage.  Take a look at the image:


Isn’t that terrible?  A lot of “weather action” goes on in the lowest 5,000′ of the atmosphere.  From Newport south along the coast we can’t see ANYTHING below about 8,000′.  That is the worst coastal radar coverage in the entire country!  Amusing that NOAA moved their headquarters to Newport; right in that location!  One would think that might have inspired a change but it hasn’t so far.  Another spot is central Oregon.  In fact during most snowstorms in central Oregon the radar is blank…like yesterday.  They had 4-7″ of snow and we wouldn’t know it except for observations on the ground.  It’s amazing that 100,000+ people live in the area yet they don’t have decent radar coverage.  It is true that in the summer we can basically see where the thunderstorms are over there due to the height of the storms, but low level details (below 6,000′) can’t be detected in the Redmond/Bend areas.  There is actually a 3rd populated are that has pretty bad coverage…Eugene.  The radar beam is way up around 10,000′ down there as well.  You’ll notice when weather systems approach from the south, even though it may be pouring in Eugene, real light stuff just gradually shows up on the radar. That’s pathetic as well.

What to do about it?  Contact your senator/congressman I suppose.  Cliff implies that Oregon’s delegation wasn’t interested 7 years ago when the coastal radar in Washington was first discussed.  At the time he was pushing hard for two radars, one at Ocean Shores (where it is now), and one near Florence (OR).  A third on Pine Mtn. SE of Bend would have been nice!  But that’s just dreaming.  Apparently due to lack of interest he gave up pushing for the Oregon coastal radar.  It would be interesting to see if there would be more interest now that NOAA is centered down there.

Now that you’re depressed about our radar coverage…Enjoy the sunshine this weekend!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

2pm Update…SO Close to Freezing Rain!

November 13, 2014

All metro area temps are within 2 degrees of freezing at this hour, which is going to cause some issues for the evening commute and overnight on area roads.


Moisture is still falling from the sky, mainly in liquid form, but plenty of ice pellets mixed in.  This will theoretically come to an end during the evening hours, definitely by midnight.  At that time the whole band of clouds/rain/snow/frz.rain will shift to our south.


For the evening commute:  Hilly areas are BELOW freezing right now and that won’t change, so the slight bit of solar heating we are getting (even through the clouds) will end at sunset.  That means many roads in the West Hills and other hilly spots may freeze up.  Freeways and highways will remain clear, but be careful elsewhere in the higher elevations.

Overnight:  Several models push the entire band of clouds to the south after midnight.  If so, skies will clear and temperatures will drop.  Any road that is wet in the metro area could freeze for the morning commute.  Of course some will have a chance to dry with the dry east wind blowing, but many will just freeze first.  Allow extra time for the morning commute.

Friday:  Sunny all day!  It’ll be like our little winter event never happened.  High temps in the lower 40s, but as opposed to Wednesday, the wind will just be a bit breezy from the east, not raging.

The forecast went well today here at FOX12, but what a close call.  If the precipitation were a little heavier and temps 2 degrees colder, the NWS forecast could have easily verified.

I did totally miss with the snow forecast out in Washington County though…sorry Forest Grove!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Wintry Mix Still On For Today

November 13, 2014


There isn’t going to be a snowstorm in Portland today.

Here is the latest…

  • Warm air has moved in overhead as models showed, bringing the chance for significant sticking snow down to just about zero for most of the metro area.
  • Metro area highways/freeways will remain clear today
  • In the hills there will be some icy roads in spots, mainly before noon
  • A wintry mix will fall all day.  That includes ice pellets, freezing rain (less likely), snow, and just plain rain.
  • Temperatures remain near/above freezing so accumulation of anything will not be on roads, except in and near the Columbia River Gorge
  • There is still a chance it changes back over to snow from Forest Grove to Vernonia, but I’d say just an inch or two is possible now.
  • The NWS has cancelled the Winter Storm Warning for the metro area.
  • RESUME YOUR NORMAL LIVES if you don’t live near/in the Columbia River Gorge

Looks like the trusty mesoscale models have done very well again today, with those soundings showing a warm layer moving in above being accurate.  Go Huskies!

At this moment ODOT road surface temperatures at the 217/26 interchange on the west side and I205/Division on the eastside are only a degree above freezing…a close call!  But with daytime warming (a little) that should keep them from falling below freezing.

I started with ice pellets and snow here at 1,000′ at the west end of the Gorge, but as of 8:30am it’s mostly snow now.  So lots of blowing snow and ice pellets if you’re driving out I-84 this morning.

Here is a nice pic showing a glazing in the hills above Newberg



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