Thoughts on Terrible Mountain Snowpack

How bad is the snow situation in the Oregon Cascades right now?  The key part of the question is “RIGHT NOW”.  As of this moment, it’s the lowest snowpack we’ve seen on Mt. Hood on this date since late December 2004.  That ended up being a terrible snow year in which the snowpack would try to build with weak systems delivering below average precipitation.  Then 4 times that winter we saw pineapple express events (warm and flooding rains) wash away the snow.  As I recall, there were weeks-long periods during January and February when even Mt. Hood Meadows had to close.  At least we haven’t seen those warm rains for a few weeks.  But still, as of this week, it is an especially bad ski season.  That could easily change.

MarkTimberline_LowSnowYears1Could it change?  Definitely!  Will it?  We don’t know yet.

The numbers above are from a SNOTEL site, operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at the 5,400′ level on Mt. Hood.  It’s quite close to the bottom of the Pucci Lift at Timberline.  By the way, SWE (snow water equivalent) is the water in the snowpack if it were suddenly melted. Basically “how much snow is in the bank”.   In this case there is 24″ of snow on the ground, which if melted, would give the equivalent of 10″ of rain.

To see how our current situation compares with past years, I went back and looked at the snowpack during the 4 other years in which we’ve seen less than 12″ SWE.  Yes, there have only been 4 years since 1980 that are this bad as of January 1st!


Then I looked to see what happened.  2 of those were just disasters…poor or almost non-existent ski opportunities.  BUT, two of those saw a dramatic change in mid-late January.  1996 saw a prolonged period of lower elevation snow (1,000′ or so) dump tons of great powder during that time.  1990 saw a series of storms for almost 6 weeks starting in early January.  So there is always hope for a sudden change.  Here is a graph from the Ski Mountaineer website showing the progress of the snow depth at Timberline along with the average during those 4 winters:


And Mt. Hood Meadows:


I added in the horrible 1976-1977 drought year for kicks…wow.  Through mid February there was never more than 25″ on the ground!

We’ll see what happens.  Definitely no snow in the Cascades through this coming Thursday.  We should finally see at least a few inches next Friday and/or Saturday.

Then some huge disagreement on models.  Some, like the 12z ECMWF, keep the upper level ridging nearby or over us for the next 10 days.  Others (the trusty GFS!) keep trying to push an arctic air mass south over us at some point beyond day 8.  The new 00z GFS was insanely cold about 12 days from now.  Here’s some eye candy showing a 1064mb surface high over southern British Columbia and the coldest arctic air I’ve seen forecast over eastern Washington and Oregon.


Only 12 days away!  Luckily the 00z ensemble chart, showing all the other versions of the same run, show this extremely cold solution to be all by itself.  Note the blue line, which is the operational run you see above.


Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

127 Responses to Thoughts on Terrible Mountain Snowpack

  1. Heaviest rain I’ve seen here since the 23rd! It’s officially sprinkling in Battle Ground. Okay, it’s raining lightly. Very strange indeed.

  2. 12z euro appears to undercut the ridge, bringing moist onshore cool zonal regime into region by 240. I will be thankful if that happens. So tired of that ridge.

    • JohnD says:

      Aren’t both the Seattle and Portland NOAA AFD’s
      this morning compelling at all?–E.g. Somewhat
      westward migration of the next edition of the
      ridge this weekend, then a no. flow?! Precursor?

  3. alohabb says:

    Wish we had some clearing so i could see what the heck those fighter jets are doing in the air over Hillsboro.

  4. Sapo says:

    6z GFS brings FRIGID temps at hr. 240. If you look at the ensemble, it’s a definite outlier.

  5. Kenny says:


  6. schmit44 says:

    12/29/2013 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:70 at Brookings Airpor( 459 ft)
    Low: 54 at RED MOUND(1753 ft)

    High:23 at NPOWDR(3212 ft)
    Low: 0 at NPOWDR (3212 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 38 degrees
    COFFEE POT FLAT (50/12 ) (5206 ft )
    CRANE PRAIRIE (43/5) (5500 ft)

  7. dothgrin says:

    The weather here the last few years is like the crack in the recent seasons of Doctor Who. You get a hint that something awesome might be on the other side, but then all of a sudden it closes up or something opposite comes through.

  8. Rob - Southeast Portland says:

    00z GFS Ensembles

    Kind of like looking outside and you accidentally get a glimpse of the neighbor’s dog going poo. You didn’t intend to see it, but you did….. it’s that bad. When the ensemble mean dipping to -2 or -3c is the highlight of the run, you have problems.

  9. Rob - Southeast Portland says:

    I just looked at the 00z GFS 500mb loop. Biggest difference compared to the EURO/GEM is the handling of the PV in Nunavut into the northwest Territories and moving it further southwest. Reasonably plausible run and it’s within 10 days too. I have a tiny ounce of cautious optimism, but that will depend on what the EURO shows. 00z GEM, no agreement with the GFS. We have a better chance of winning Powerball, Mega Millions, and every other lottery than we do at an arctic blast and snow storm.

  10. Model Rider says:

    Flip flop flip flop. Wait for the euro in about an hour and a half. That should be the tell tell. But I do like the gfs tonight.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      That is a very cold run again…what a tease.

    • Model Rider says:

      Maybe its not teasing Mark. Maybe its onto something for a change and its the right model this time. About an hour til euro then I’ll get excited if that one flips again. How were the ensembles with this run by the way?

    • boydo3 N Albany says:

      I actually paid the GFS guy a few bucks to put up this run. He hides in a small room that looks like a broom closet out there in the NCEP computer complex. He doesn’t get paid a whole lot so once in a while he’ll take a bit of cash to tweak the inputs. Hope y’all like it.. 😉

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      The Euro was sticking with its ridging again on the 00z run.

  11. marcustheweathernut says:

    Arctic blast again on the 00z gfs… that thing is on crack!!!!

  12. Dave in SW PDX (235') says:

    O, fickle GFS! Why must you tease us so?

  13. Jason Hougak says:

    If scientists can invent an invisible cloak then why can we change the freezing point of water to say 42F! Snow at 42F would be awesome… just watched “cloudy with a chance of meatballs!” LOL

  14. MasterNate says:

    No posts by rob and Paul = No exciting weather.

  15. Sapo says:

    Looks like mountains/1,000 or 2,000 feet up could see flakes Friday Night.

  16. pappoose in scappoose says:

    Sure glad the football is good today. Go Seahawks!!


    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      Need to climb the tower to warm up.
      Or get up there and chow down on a few hot dogs with our winter time tower warmer!

  17. PDX Weather Nut says:

    It’s just awful. It’s been over 5 years now since our last real snowfall in PDX (December of 2008). Even the traditional winter storms that used to occur in regular fashion have been disappearing due in large part to global climate change.

    • IceCold says:

      Global warming/climate change is not what is responsible for our lack of snow. Do not drink the Kool-aid!

    • ocpaul says:

      In the 900’s, it warmed. In the 1400’s it cooled. It’s climate, it does that. And, it cycles: snow, no snow.

    • W7ENK says:

      You do realize that one (average) volcanic eruption releases an amount of CO2 into the atmosphere equivalent to 100 years of human emissions, right? And you also realize that there are anywhere between 5 and 20 active volcanic eruptions somewhere on this planet at any given moment, right??

      That’s not conjecture, that’s science and fact.


    • Chris says:

      Re volcanoes vs. humans, W7ENK, where are you getting your information?

      [ ]

      Some volcanic eruptions released large quantities of CO2 in the distant past. However, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) ( reports that human activities now emit more than 135 times as much CO2 as volcanoes each year.

      Human activities currently release over 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. (

    • Heatblizzard says:

      And this doesn’t account for Gore’s several mansions that are NOT energy efficient. If he were serious he would make or hire a trusted company to mass produce energy efficient homes for sale and to tour so people can get an idea of what they can do to their existing homes and see the effects in action.

    • Heatblizzard says:

      And to make solar panels widespread so we won’t be dependent on the grid the government should do waht we did in the 30s.

      In the 30s all the dams and ski lodges as well as other infrastructure was built by CCC workers funded by the US Government giving jobs and meals. That is what we need for Solar Panels then they will be cheaper and on many apartments in big cities.

      It will be part of the rent in which you get a seriously reduced electric bill and the apartment will have some electricity to use when there is a power outage during winter storms. The rent itself would be reduced as whatever excess energy the power companies like BPA will BUY FROM YOU THE OWNER and pay you the standard rate of what you produce.

      Today what is wrong is the Government just throw money at companies hoping they will do good with it but without a program nothing really gets done except the companies making bad choices going bankrupt.

    • IceCold says:

      W7ENK says “That’s not conjecture, that’s science and fact.”

      WOW! Some people will believing anything. I told you not to drink the Kool-aid.

    • W7ENK says:

      Here. Sit, listen and learn something sciencey:

    • W7ENK says:

      Here’s a little more to chew on:

    • W7ENK says:

      You want more sciencey shiz, how ’bout almost 3 hours worth…

      Educate yourself before stomping on toes.
      You come out looking like less of an @$$.

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      Certainly OK to debate/discuss a point, W7.

      You’re the only one calling folks an @$$.

    • Chris says:

      W7ENK, the same two people using mainly logical fallacies to support their view do not a convincing argument make.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      W7ENK, you’re wrong. It only took me a couple minutes to find it: “Volcanoes emit around 0.3 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. This is about 1% of human CO2 emissions which is around 29 billion tonnes per year.”
      And HEATBLIZZARD, you are outta here if you continue trolling political comments.

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      C’mon Chriss, let’s talk about these fallacies.

      I suppose calling folks an @$$ is OK in your book!!!

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      Sorry Mark, getting too worked up over some ridiculous statements.

    • W7ENK says:

      So, physics and chemistry are “logical fallacies”?
      Please, elaborate.

    • Rob - Southeast Portland says:

      It is stuff like this that puzzles me why you’re still allowed the privilege of being on this Blog.

  18. Wooly Bully says:

    2012-2013: mountain snowfall was slightly below average
    2011-2012 mountain snowfall was well above average
    2010-2011 mountain snowfall was well above average
    2009-2010 mountain snowfall was slightly below average
    2008-2009 mountain snowfall was above average
    2007-2008 mountain snowfall was at near record high levels
    We’re due for a stinker.

    • PDX Weather Nut says:

      That only tells a very small part of the story depending when you measure mountain snowfall.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      Very true. Statistically it’s time for a low snow year.

    • JERAT416 says:

      We may have a lame snow year once and a while, but it will balance out. When they can’t keep the roads open often next year because of constant snow, we will look back on this winter. Maybe someday I can see what I have dreamed of. 50 feet at Timberline, 40 at Meadows, and 30 at SkiBowl …………(all on the ground at once) by April 1st (not season total but actually on the ground)

  19. Sapo says:

    12z GFS looks more realistic. Agrees with the ECMWF on the high pressure pushing away cold air, not really allowing chances for snow. Still cold enough for mountain snow, though, so that’s good.

  20. ocpaul says:

    Grey, cloudy, foggy, calm, 37.6F. Anybody else feel like they live in Mordor?

  21. Heatblizzard says:

    Is it even POSSIBLE anymore to have cold weather in January to make it truely feel like winter or is there not enough of something?

    What is the blame? Lack of Artic ice? Not enough jet stream support? Negative North Atlantic Oscillation?

  22. Heatblizzard says:

    Or kill our jobs.

  23. Heatblizzard says:

    So who’s looking forward to the exciting summer of water wars and people screaming in caps about Global Warming and how we should all kill ourselves to save the planet?

    • PDX Weather Nut says:

      Don’t have to kill ourselves, just take significant enough measures to begin to lower CO2 and other emissions. It’s a shame it wasn’t done decades ago.

    • dothgrin says:

      Great, more Priuses on the road to make Portland rush hour traffic even more of a mess (Actually, the plural of Prius is “Prii”…I am not making this up, even if it violates Latin constructions).

    • Timmy_Supercell (Klamath Falls @ 4200') says:

      I think our impact is fairly small of an impact. 99% of it could just be the planet doing its own thing. We’ve only collected about a couple hundred years of weather, climate patterns take longer than that to change so we have so say in this at all. It’s all just media media media, making news out of nothing.

    • Timmy_Supercell (Klamath Falls @ 4200') says:

      Ouch a couple typos!! Hold on..


      We have only collected about a couple hundred years of weather *information, climate patterns take longer than that to change so we have *no say in this at all. It’s all just media media media, making news out of nothing.

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      I agree Timmy, It’s just media doing what it does best!

    • Chris says:

      And all the climate scientists (98% of them) are all looking for publicity, too?

    • Wooly Bully says:

      I’d like to respectfully weigh in here. First of all, neither truth nor science is a matter of consensus building — that’s the business of politics. Second of all, there has been no observable warming in the last 17 years. That is correct: there has been no observable warming in the last 17 years. Thirdly, if the GFS cannot successfully predict a weather pattern more than a week out, how on earth are we supposed to believe the 10 year/ 20 year / 100 year climate predictions are accurate? Let’s stick to the science and keep the political stuff out!

  24. Euro 12z thru 240 not great. Hint of phasing upstream N and S stream energy with trough into NW beyond 240. Pretty desperate when you need to look beyond the model run limit of 240 hr for signs of hope. !

  25. Rob - Southeast Portland says:

    12z GFS some precip next week, but no overall large scale pattern change. 12z GEM is even drier I believe….

  26. Actually sleeting right now. Bizarre

  27. W7ENK says:

    I would love nothing more than for that ridiculous cold outlier to verify, with a massive overrunning pineapple express to dump insane amounts of sea-level snow leading into a prolonged period of cold. Imagine January 2012, but 100 miles farther South, and then it sticks around for a month. Wouldn’t that be nice?

  28. Jason Hougak says:

    Found it… Feb. 89. It was a very warm Jan. and then “wamo” arctic blast. My patents didn’t see that one coming.

    • ocpaul says:

      We bought our first house that January. (NE 60th and Sandy, major gorge influence). We chatted with our neighbors in the mild January sun. Then…BAM! Had not filled the oil tank yet.
      Thankfully, the house had a woodstove. We burned the realtors sign to keep warm. Happy, happy memories 🙂

    • boydo3 N Albany says:

      Yeah, that was a fun one.
      We were working on an older house we had just bought too. One day cleaning up the yard and having a picnic in the sun….then a couple days later shoveling drifting snow off the front steps to get into the house!
      Snow on the ground for two weeks. Wash board streets in downtown Albany.

  29. Jason Hougak says:

    Nothing like a little coffee… Was it winter 88-89 or 89-90 that had the super freeze in Jan. or Feb. I was a kid and remember or pool froze solid split the sidewalls and was a beached iceberg for the rest of winter. My brother and I played on the darn thing till it eventually melted. Good ole’ memories… Coffees ready

  30. Jason Hougak says:

    “Keep the weather blogs a rolling”

  31. Jason Hougak says:

    NWS Climate prediction center outlook maps from Jan-May have to PNW below average for temperature with equal chances for precipitation. At least we’ll be potentially colder. Let’s hope the NW conveyer belt will start to unload some snow.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      Wow…that was a nice snow/ice storm setup…several times over on that run.

    • gratefulduck says:

      Talk about a strong inversion.. holy cow.. 925m at -14 while 850 is at 0 and 500 at -23?? geebus .. say hello to Mr Ice Storm from hell if that verified!!

    • gratefulduck says:

      I should clarify as the numbers I posted would be snow.. to this setup is pointing to a big ice storm. 🙂

  32. PaulO says:

    Great historical analysis as always… my gut feeling is fairly huge spring snows to make it up and (I hope, a late seasons for friends back home as well as resort owners. miss the drama, 58-60 at night and 74 maybe winter consistency 3500 in Honduran mts. (no model rides here) gets very boring. but at least u can count on 74 or so daily hi and maybe a brief shower w/ n a/c or heat to pay for. and they guys with big guns on downtown streets are reassureing…sorta like PPD more show/much less use…

  33. Wooly Bully says:

    I was reflecting on the host’s post a bit and decided to look up some old weather maps.
    76-77 and 04-05 (years with weak snowfall) were El Nino years, so we can set them aside.
    95-96 (the year that turned out w/ heavy snowfall) was a La Nina year, so we can similarly set that aside.
    Which brings us to 89-90 and 80-81: both horrible starts to the season, both ONI neutral years, but one ended with heavy snowfall (89-90) and the other resulted in a complete bust (80-81). Looking at old weather maps, i noticed that winter of 80-81 featured a persistent, reoccurring, high pressure ridge off of the southern Oregon coast…

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      That’s real interesting about 80-81. I wasn’t paying attention to mountain snow at that time since I was 11. I also don’t remember it being a dry-ish winter, but once again too young to care apparently.

    • Kirk(Sandpoint Idaho) says:

      I remember 80-81 that year was so disappointing. I was only 9 but I remember zero snow that year. I lived off Leahy Rd. At 500ft and we got nothing. I was a weather dork even back then. I used to keep a weather journal as a kid.

  34. schmit44 says:

    12/28/2013 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:67 at BROOKINGS( 79 ft)
    Low: 49 at RED MOUND(1753 ft)

    High:23 at NYSSA(2172 ft)
    Low: 2 at HEREFORD (3599 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 42 degrees
    KLAMATH NWR (47/5 ) (4531 ft )

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    0.04″ at DW9126 Brightwoo(1336ft)

  35. Rob - Southeast Portland says:

    Regardless of how this pattern changes plays out we’ll all be eyeballing every 12z/00z run of the GFS/GEM/EURO for the hope that just maybe, maybe things revert to a more favorable pattern. It likely won’t, but those “what ifs” keep our child like imaginations of 40′ snowmen, blizzard conditions, and epic cold alive and well in our minds. ….Well that is until 4-5 days of pure crappy model runs and then we’re like “WHAT? Winter Cancel. forget this…. this sucks. NEXT…. Maybe Winter 2014-2015 we’ll score!” and that’s exactly why we model ride and do what we do.

    6z NAM in 15 minutes!
    6z GFS in 2 hours!
    12z GFS in 8 hours!
    12z GEM in 8 1/2 hours!
    12z EURO in 11 hours 22 minutes!

  36. Kenny says:

    The new 00z EURO is an outlier, pay no attention to it. The GFS has good consistency in bringing the arctic air. The 00z GFS showed the coldest run ever imaginable and that means something. The EURO will follow the GFS soon.

  37. Rob - Southeast Portland says:

    00z EURO full run
    Ridge develops and amplifies too far east, and what’s this? COULD we be seeing the behemoth offshore ridge finally breaking down? Flow is not nearly as splitty. That sure looks like strengthening WNW flow to me too. Nice consolidated jet to 140 W.

    • boydo3 N Albany says:

      Yup, the euro gives some love to the gfs. French respecting the US? hmmm…The times they are a changin’..

  38. Wooly Bully says:

    Thanks for this info! I had no idea the 00z was such an outlier. I hate to be pessimistic, but my gut says our arctic blast is going to be chewed up by the doomsday high pressure ridge just like the one in early December. We are due for a loser winter.

  39. Rob - Southeast Portland says:

    7 – 10 days out…. Hard to say right now which trend is to be believed. An arctic blast, or ridging closer to 130-140 W. I would lean towards the latter unfortunately.

    • BoringOregon says:

      Who has been calling it this hole time, haha can I get a little credit!?!?

    • boydo3 N Albany says:

      OK mister Boring…a wishcast made, how long ago? No creds I’m afraid. No creds any more than we’d give to the Farmer’s Almanac. No creds for guesses… 🙂

  40. Kenny says:

    The upcoming 00z EURO will show ARCTIC AIR, just watch…..

  41. dothgrin says:

    If it stays cool, a couple major storms could make the difference (a “duh” I am sure). Having lived in Albuquerque, there were a couple of unexpected very late winter storms that saved the state from a major fires (the other times, well, ask Los Alamos in 2000).

  42. Thank Goddess it’s an outlier; the rhodies west of the Cascades would be doomed by -22C @850mb!

  43. Rob - Southeast Portland says:

    Thanks, Mark for the through and detailed post. Yup, 00z op major outlier, but what a fun run to look at regardless!

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