Is It Too Late For the Ski Areas?

The short answer is a NO.  There is still some good time available to get some great snowstorms although on average more than half the normal winter snowpack has accumulated by this point in the winter season.

The longer answer? It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that we’ll see a “great” volume of snow in the Cascades in the next month or two.  At least recent history generally tells us that.

The ski season so far has been the worst since 2004-2005.   It’s January 23rd.  There is no significant snow (more than 6″ or so) in sight through the end of the month; in fact a little rain is likely at the lower parts of the resorts next Tuesday.

So as of February 1st, we’ll likely still have a bunch of ski resorts unable to open more than a lift or two in Oregon…very rare.  That includes Cooper Spur, Summit, Ski Bowl, Hoodoo, Willamette Pass, and Mt. Ashland.  Only Mt. Hood Meadows, Timberline, Bachelor, and Anthony Lakes are near normal operations.

You may remember that I posted about a month ago on the poor snow situation.  The only thing that changed in the entire month was one minor snowstorm and one big snowstorm in the middle of the month.  Other than that pretty much nothing!  We are finishing up a 2nd week of totally dry weather and most of next week looks drier than normal too.  During that posting in late December I mentioned that in some years we’ve seen the weather pattern suddenly change at some point in January and we saw a ton of snow in the mountains as a result.

That didn’t happen; so I figured this evening I’d look back at previous snow years and see what happened from THIS POINT forward.  Take a look at the snow chart from Northwest Avalanche Center data for Mt. Hood Meadows base area.  The data go back to the early 1970s:


The red line is this year, the gray is average.  I plotted all years (8 of them) that had about 65″ or less snow on the ground on February 1st.  Right now Meadows has about 50, it hasn’t changed much in two weeks.  I see several points:

1. Almost every year that is this low at this point in the season stays below average, many years significantly below average.

2. 1/4 of those years (1978-79 & 1993-94) had a snowy pattern arrive for about a month from early February to early March, pushing snowpack up close to normal.  Interesting that in both those years March warm spells cut the snowpack back down again.

3. In another 1/4 of those years (1976-77 & 2002-03) a snowy pattern arrived in the 2nd half of February, but snowpack remained below normal. That means in one half of previous bad years there was some sort of change in the month of February, but the other half of the years we just limped along into spring without any big change.  There you go; a 50/50 chance of a big weather pattern change for the mountains.

4.  Crunch time for snow in the Cascades is the next 5 weeks.

For the weather geeks I think it’s interesting that we’re tracking close to 2002-2003 and 1978-1979 which were both mentioned by many earlier in the winter as possible analogs to this year.

In the near-term (next week or so), all models advertise a weather pattern change around next Wednesday-Thursday, but to what?  It appears the strong ridge over us will shift to the northwest (up closer to Alaska), and allow some flow from the west to arrive on the West Coast.  At the same time northerly flow coming around the big ridge tries to move south into the Pacific Northwest around February 1st.  This says we get out of the totally dry weather and go to just a more typical “drier than normal” pattern.  Meanwhile temps cool off quite a bit, especially at the higher elevations.  Take a look at the 00z GFS ensemble chart:


and the 12z ECMWF ensemble chart:


They both show temps around 5,000′ cooling off quite a bit the next 10-14 days.   With a ridge off to the northwest there’s always the chance arctic air could attempt to sneak into the Pacific Northwest, but there’s no obvious sign that is in the cards…for now.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

26 Responses to Is It Too Late For the Ski Areas?

  1. cathrynpitt says:

    I want snow so bad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. alohabb says:

    Wind advisory? Maybe for eastside. No wind here in Hillsboro

  3. W7ENK says:

    Uh oh…

    926 AM PST FRI JAN 24 2014

  4. MasterNate says:

    We are colder than Fairbanks at the moment. 45 there right now.

  5. Jason Hougak says:

    Got polar vortex?

  6. Crown Point again today?

    -11 gradient right now

    Larch Mountain at 1,100′ is above the inversion…so once again, looks like 100+ mph winds there today.

  7. Jason Hougak says:

    February game changer coming in. I still think as far as a drought goes one month will not save us. Lately it has seemed we have been getting wetter springs. My wife plants our garden during nice spring weather only for it to drown in chilly spring rain. As far as spring goes, we’d better have a soaker with snow for the mountains until May. I skied the last day of the 2010-11 ski season on May 1st at ski bowl. They even closed with about 50 plus inches on the base. It even snowed the previous night. I guess the great thing is that this weather pattern can kiss it after winters end and never return again. Take a hike you stubborn ridge!

    • Drew says:

      I really do hope that Feb ushers in an awesome change to the weather for the mountains. Spring riding is great and all, but good lord I was looking at pictures from last year riding Private Reserve (meadows) in knee-thigh deep powder. (Dec 28th).

      I am praying this change coming next week is like you said, a game changer.

    • Muxpux (Castle Rock 175') says:

      In 2007 I believe I went snowboarding g at SkiBowl around my b-day (may 8th) and they still had a huge snowpack. I asked why they would close with still so much snow and the answer was people start shifting away from winter sports in the mid spring despite the amount of snow. I was bummed cause I only got about a month use out of my spring season pass.

  8. W7ENK says:

    The short answer will be YES here in another few weeks if this continues…

  9. JJ78259 says:

    Schools are closed in San Antonio because freezing of drizzle all night. Kids get a snow day! Freeze protection had the Pool pumps running all night 27° this morning very cool! Lots of ice. Very rare event down here. Arctic Blast!

    • W7ENK says:

      So, I don’t get it…
      This guy hated the fact we got no winter weather here in NW Oregon, but instead loves warm sunshine, so he moves to an area that typically gets warm sunshine all year long, and yet somehow he still manages to get more winter in one season than we’ve seen here in the last 5? How the actual FAWK?!? >_<

    • JJ78259 says:

      I know the coolest winter here in years! Unbelievable!

  10. Timmy_Supercell (Klamath Falls @ 4200') says:

    Would have already seen a good 2/3 of my average snowfall in K-Falls and only 7.50″ right now for my total.

  11. Greg Carstens says:

    1976-77 was the worst I had seen in my weather watching history Mark. That would have to be followed by the dismal season of 2004-05 when Paradise on Mount Rainier registered barely over 400 inches of snowfall. To some that might seem like a lot but for that location it is horrible. The snow pack had completely melted out at the weather station by June of 2005. The greatest depth in that 2004-05 season was a little over 7 feet. Pretty close to what there is at Paradise right now according at least to the NWAC sensor. The ranger division a little earlier this month measured a max depth of 115 inches which is still under 10 feet. It is more common for Paradise to have 15 to 20 feet of snow on the ground especially by the beginning of March.

    Lower elevations below Narada Falls below 4,500 feet look pathetic right now. It is beyond pathetic at Longmire at 2,762 feet.

    The other day I checked the snow depth at Crater Lake at 6,400 feet. Just 22 inches! Only 27% of normal.

    Further south Mount Shasta at the Sand Flat Weather Station at 6,700 feet was showing just 7 inches of snow on the ground at that elevation on the southwest side of the mountain.

    There is only one word that sums this winter up so far….


  12. schmit44 says:

    1/23/2014 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:75 at Port Orford (US( 90 ft)
    Low: 56 at Brookings Airpor(459 ft)

    High:23 at WAMIC MILL(3320 ft) & Shaniko(3657 ft) & NPOWDR(3212 ft)
    Low: 5 at FOSTER FLAT (5000 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 44 degrees
    Medford, Rogue V (67/23 ) (1329 ft )
    PROVOLT SEED ORC (65/21) (1180 ft)

    • Timmy_Supercell (Klamath Falls @ 4200') says:

      Today was outstanding. A little breezy towards 3:00 – 4:00pm outside but really enjoyed that 55 degree temp!

  13. BoringOregon says:

    35 with strong winds!

  14. We haven’t had a good cold event in early/mid February for quite some time – I wonder if this is the year???

  15. Austin-East Vancouver says:

    I’m feeling snow:) I have a good feeling about it

  16. Marcustheweathernut says:

    Goodbye ridge!!!!!!!!!!

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