December 15th Snowpack: Lowest in 20+ Years

Check out snowpack in the Cascades and other Oregon mountains…pretty bad!  Less than 50% of normal for mid December.

snowpack

Of course it’s very early in the season, and things could turn around quickly.  But as we head toward (and into) Christmas Break, I see no change from the current dry pattern.  In fact most of the precipitation in the Cascades the next week or so will be in the form of rain, not snow.

Right now Timberline and Meadows are partially open.  A coworker that was up there today said it was great with the warm (50 degrees!)  weather, but the snow was so thin he couldn’t go off trails much at all.  Skibowl, Summit, Cooper Spur, Hoodoo, and Willamette Pass are not open yet.  I would be surprised if any of those resorts opened in the next 8-10 days.  The reason?  The same culprit that has given the Portland area only half of our typical wet season rainfall so far.  It’s an upper level ridge that continues to sit over us, or just to our west, blocking storms and/or sending them around us.  Here’s an upper-level map for Friday.  The white lines are air flow (more or less, actually lines of equal height), and the warm colors are high than normal upper heights…or ridging.  You can see the big ridge offshore.

ecm_friday

and again at Day 8, Christmas Day.  Similar setup with the ridge almost right over us:

ecm_xmasday

Not good; no hint of any normal Pacific Northwest winter weather pattern with a bunch of chilly valley rain and good mountain snow.

The best we get is warm and weak systems riding over the top of the ridge.  These produce drippy weather here in the valleys and rain or rain/snow up in the Cascades…yuck.  That’s what we expect for the upcoming Friday-Monday as you can see in our mountain forecast:

MarkSnow_MtHoodFcst_2013

As of tonight, Timberline is reporting 27″ of snow, which is the least of any December 15th since 1989!  Most of you skiers probably remember the winter of 2004-2005…really bad.  That year was a skiing disaster with Skibowl only able to open for a few weeks and I think even Meadows was closed at times mid-winter.  That year we had 47″ on the ground in mid-December at Timberline.  BUT, there were 3 pineapple express events the following couple of months that kept destroying and fresh snow.  We’ll hope that’s not the case this time around.

This is one of just 5 times that Timberline has seen 30″ or less on the ground on December 15th.  So what happened in the other 4 years?  The following includes snowdepth on the 15th and the results:

2002-2003  
30″,   80″+ by January 1st, but then not a very good ski season, poor conditions

1989-1990
15″,   18″ by January 1st, then 105″ by February 1st, massive snowstorms commenced in mid-January

1979-1980
30″,   41″ by January 1st, 85″ by February 1st, ski season limped along…not too bad

1976-1977
2″,  8″  by January 1st,   10″ on February 1st.  Worst drought and ski season (or no skiing) in years.  Hasn’t happened since, hopefully won’t occur again!

So you can see what we’ve had so far is no guarantee of what will come for the rest of the winter.  I remember ’89-’90 real well, all sorts of avalanche issues and highways closed due to feet and feet of snow from mid January to late February.  I think Stevens Pass had 18′ in 3 weeks!

I’m quite confident that we’ll see very little new snow in the Cascades over the next 10 days, but who knows what is out beyond that time.

Here is one hint from the ECMWF model weekly maps.  It’s similar to the map above but a whole week at a time average into one map.  Weeks 1-4, which takes us into the 2nd week of January:

500za_week1_bg_NA

500za_week2_bg_NA

500za_week3_bg_NA

500za_week4_bg_NA

Looks like the ridge wants to continue hanging out…hopefully not.

By the way, we’ll be quite close to a brief episode of freezing rain or snow in the metro area early Friday morning as that warm and moist airmass for the weekend arrives…big question mark on whether it’ll be cold enough or not…more on that tomorrow, since it’s still 4 days away.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

56 Responses to December 15th Snowpack: Lowest in 20+ Years

  1. Mr. Hubris says:

    Interesting post, Mark!

    Pertinent to the discussion:
    Bad years (02-03 and 76-77) were both el nino years.
    Good years (89-90 and 79-90) were not.
    No El Nino this year.

  2. Garron near Washington Square says:

    Alright, who broke the bottle of Siberian vodka over the tallest tower???

    http://weather.wxnorthwest.com/kptv_tower_temps.htm

  3. W7ENK says:

    I can’t for the life of me understand why the WRF insists on showing snow down to sea level at PDX on Friday when thickness will be at 550dm and the snow level is (initially) up around 5,000 feet? What kinda candy is it crushin’ in its eggnog?? By the time it’s cold enough at 850mb for low elevation snow, the moisture will be long gone… it makes no sense, just baffling!!

  4. gloriousnumber1 says:

    All is not lost. We have seen this before, a slow start to the ski season when it looks bleak, then a bunch of nonstop storms dump 10 feet in a couple weeks up there. Hopefully that will happen this time too.

  5. Model Rider says:

    Dont look now but the 12z euro has a huge arctic blast……..for the upper Midwest.

  6. cgavic says:

    Sun in sandy at 1k ft.

  7. gidrons says:

    I went back and read the Nov. 5th post on ski season 2013-2014. This isn’t really what we expected from a la nada.

    Is there still an archive for past months? Scrolling down that far gave my computer a seizure.

  8. pappoose in scappoose says:

    I favor the Land of Gravelly Plains for a dusting of snow!

    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE PORTLAND OR
    849 AM PST TUE DEC 17 2013

    MUCH COLDER AIR WILL FILTER IN BEHIND THE FRONT ON WEDNESDAY AS A COLD UPPER TROUGH DROPS SOUTHWARD FROM THE GULF OF ALASKA. SNOW
    LEVELS WILL RAPIDLY DROP DOWN TO BELOW THE CASCADE PASSES WED MORNING…AND NEAR THE VALLEY FLOOR WEDNESDAY NIGHT. MOISTURE WILL BE
    LIMITED WEDNESDAY AND DO NOT EXPECT MUCH FOR SNOW. WITH OROGRAPHIC ENHANCEMENT THE CASCADE FOOTHILLS AND COAST RANGE MAY PICK UP SOME LIGHT ACCUMULATIONS DURING THE LATE AFTERNOON/EARLY EVENING HOURS. THE MOISTURE WILL BE MUCH LIMITED WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND EXPECT A RAIN/SNOW MIX DOWN TO THE VALLEY FLOOR WITH ONLY A LIGHT DUSTING OF SNOW IN FAVORED SPOTS.

  9. slim1357 says:

    I was at Timberline yesterday and the best thing about it was the view from the top of Palmer. Conditions were Icy up top, slushy and thin at the bottom. Forget about going off the trails unless you want a bumpy ride. Come on Zonal flow! I miss you….

  10. Just looked at the latest sounding’s forecast for Friday AM>

    Expect at least some SNOW Friday morning.

    These soundings clearly indicate snow Friday morning!

    However, it’s very brief and by the weekend we’ll be approaching 50…

    • David B. says:

      Yes, ’tis a pity this didn’t happen during the arctic blast when it could have lasted more than several hours.

    • Zilbo Zagginz says:

      Just long enough for school to be cancelled, but all gone by the time you get the kids bundled up and out the door to play in it.

  11. JJ78259 says:

    Down here in West Palm Beach for one of my clients Christmas Parties 81 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze blowing through the palm trees, hard to top.

  12. Darlene in Boring says:

    I will be waiting to hear your thoughts on freezing rain for Friday, Mark. If it does happen, I hope it is a very short lived event. My daughter will be driving down from Seattle on Saturday morning. Should we rethink buying a train ticket?

    • Andrew (Beaverton, OR) says:

      No, she will be fine. Highs will be in the mid-upper 40’s. Any winter weather will be confined to the early morning hours Friday morning.

    • David B. says:

      I’m rooting for there to be a nice dusting on the ground Friday morning here in Bainbridge Island. It would be partial compensation for the arctic blast being a big zero precip-wise.

    • David B. says:

      WRF-GFS says 1 to 2 inches at my location Friday… I’ll take it!

  13. alohabb says:

    What the heck are those shiny blobs on the 7 day for Saturday-Sunday?

  14. Model Rider says:

    What a bunch of marys. Already this winter we’ve had an arctic blast and its Dec 16th. Models can flip in a few days to a week. We could have the best winter after Xmas and then eat your words. Ridiculous. No one knows if we get dumped on after that. Get a grip people its early. As I recall models and the mountains had nothing to look forward to in ’08 before the big dump that happened two weeks after Dec 1st. Pathetic.

    • David B. says:

      The perfect set-up for a “surprise” winter storm that really wasn’t a surprise because the very real possibility of it was forecast, but the forecasts weren’t believed by the winter weather pessimists.

      As Cliff Mass closed his recent blog posting about the coming possible event:
      “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
      ― Winston Churchill

    • W7ENK says:

      And a realist takes every possibility into consideration, then filters a solution through personal experience and historical precedent — two things one absolutely cannot argue against rationally.

  15. schmit44 says:

    12/16/2013 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    Warmest:
    High:76 at FLYNN PRAIRIE(1543 ft) & RED MOUND(1753 ft)
    Low: 57 at FLYNN PRAIRIE(1543 ft) & RED MOUND(1753 ft)

    Coldest:
    High:18 at NYSSA(2172 ft)
    Low: 1 at CHRISTMAS VALLEY (4360 ft ) & DIMLKE (4726 ft ) & MAZAMA (4596 ft ) & Beatty (4320 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 46 degrees
    COFFEE POT FLAT (64/18 ) (5206 ft )
    Cresent (US 97 M (58/12) (4455 ft)
    CHRISTMAS VALLEY (47/1) (4360 ft)

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    0.16″ at Astoria Regional(10ft)

  16. Heatblizzard says:

    http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/daily_ao_index/teleconnections.shtml

    This site is you’re one stop shop to get all the info and data you need on the state of the ocean including what has happened the past several months.

    Feast you’re eyes!

  17. Heatblizzard says:

    I am not the slightest bit surprised. There is a lot of energy over the pacific Ocean creating this ridge and it needs to be input into the models. As long as the energy remains that ridge ain’t going to break down.

    It may weaken if a strong enough system comes in but until the unusual energy goes away the ridge will bounce right back and we continue in the dul drums.

    For now the best we can hope for is the energy to retrograde up to Alaska to draw cold air down but then again since it’s blocking storms we will still be drier then normal either way.

    The AO index is not impressive sadly neither is the PNA index that shows if there is a blocking pattern.

    Both the AO and the PNA (Pacific North America pattern) go hand to hand so you can’t just look at one index and say “Yup. This is what the weather will be like”.

    You need to look at the entire telecommunication network of the west coast. Also it will help to know what the indexes were in the last several months to find a trend.

  18. Mike (Orchards 255') says:

    Hands down, the worst winter ever=1976-77…….Very depressing.. 😦

    • Heatblizzard says:

      Not surprised in the slightest. Disappointed yes but I saw it coming back in the summer and knew that with all the activity in the ocean it would largely remain this way.

      Hopefully we are not going to get stuck in warm SW flow the entire winter but we are at the tail end of a brief *warm phase* in our 500 year climate patterns.

      This is the same pattern that continued to give sticky dDewpoints in the 60s down here in Salem earlier in late July thru August that one guy talked about I think Weather Dan is his name.

      I don’t know HOW he gets so much information for Salem.

    • Longview - 400 ft says:

      I remember December 2nd of 1977 (5th grade). We had a pineapple express of sorts flooding our fields because the dike behind our house was running over with water from hillside creeks. The flood water never reached our house. In fact, our parents pulled my brothers and I out of school because the fear the dike would break. It never did. We rafted over our fields for a couple of weeks. A memory for a lifetime.

      I will never forget the sight of water running down the side of the dike which no one in our neighborhood thought was possible. A scary memory.

      That year was the worst ever in my lifetime. 1996 comes close, maybe January of 2009 is in there as well, but December of 1977 takes the top spot.

      Needless to say the city put in huge pump house along the dike and never really had that problem again.

  19. El Diablo. That what this weather pattern is.

  20. boydo3 N Albany says:

    1977 we were having our future garden site tilled in mid Feb! The worst ski season ever and the driest (and foggiest) winter I can remember (and I’m really old). The following summer was cool and damp. El Nino?

  21. BoringOregon says:

    In watch next week we will be talking about a huge winter storm 🙂 …

  22. Ben T says:

    4 days is better than 10 🙂

  23. BoringOregon says:

    You in!!!

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