Snowpack & Skiing Update: Looking Even Worse

January 22, 2015


We haven’t had a decent snowstorm in the Cascades in a month!

Only 20-25% of the normal snowpack for January 22nd is on the ground right now.  That means about 80% of a typical snowpack is missing!  The numbers above are Snow Water Equivalent…the amount of water in the snow that’s sitting on the ground.  If you thought it was bad on January 1st, it’s even worse now.  The numbers have dropped 10% from 2 weeks ago.

Now take a look at the numbers for water-year precipitation (wet season precipitation).  precip It’s actually ABOVE NORMAL across most of the state!  So what’s going on?  These two maps tell us what you probably already suspected, most of the significant precipitation this winter has been falling from storms that are much warmer than normal.  It happened just before Thanksgiving, just before Christmas, and again last weekend.  Each of those times when a lot of precip fell, snow levels were 5,000′ or higher…sometimes much higher.  As mentioned in previous postings, this season seems quite similar to 2004-2005.  Although that year we had a much heavier rain-on-snow event right now that mostly finished off the ski areas for a few weeks.  At least this year we have Mt. Hood Meadows, Timberline, and Mt. Bachelor operating in the Cascades.

But due to the lack of snow, Cooper Spur, Skibowl, Summit, Hoodoo, Willamette Pass, and Mt. Ashland are all closed.  I see no hope of getting those areas open through the end of this month (next 10 days), and likely not in the first few days of February either.


Check out the ECMWF ensemble chart for the next 15 days:


The blue line is the operational model and all the thinner lines are additional runs of the same model.  Temperatures are in degrees Celsius on the left side and time runs from now (left side) to early February on the right.  This is around the 4,500′ elevation on Mt. Hood.  So that would mean the green line is more or less a snow level around 4,000′.  That means at no time in the next 10 days does the freezing level even make it down to around Government Camp!  There are two periods of extremely warm ridging along the West Coast…one Sunday/Monday and another around the 31st/1st of February.  Yes, you’re reading the chart right if you see around a +18 degrees early next week at that elevation.  60-65 degrees is the forecast high for Sunday and Monday at Government Camp!

As a result of all this, it’s definitely the worst ski season since 2004-2005.  I’ve mentioned before I never thought I would see back to back terrible snow years but it has happened.

Now last year it was like a switch was flipped after the 5th of February as one cold storm after another dumped heavy snow in the mountains.  Will that happen this year?  There are signs that we may not see a dramatic change this time.  Take a look at the ECMWF run from last night.  Twice a week the world’s best model is run out to 32 days.   Actually it is run many times with slightly different initial conditions to give us a general idea of what to expect.  So these maps are the compilation of all those “ensemble” runs.  The news isn’t good for skiers and snow pack in the mountains.

Week 1:  We already know this one…big ridge along the western part of North America this weekend and a 2nd ridge next weekend.  Warm and mainly dry


Week 2: A bit different, Looks like a few weak weather systems will make it through during this period, so maybe SOME snow in the Cascades.  But still looks near normal or above temperature-wise


Week 3:  The bad news returns…ridging is stronger and going back to it’s position right over us.  This is drier than normal and any storms that move in would be warmer than normal too.  This takes us through Valentine’s Weekend


Week 4:  Same thing, in fact the pattern is hardly different.  If this really occurs, it’ll feel like early spring with the rapidly increasing sunshine.  Strong troughing in the Gulf of Alaska and its wet storms is way out there.  I want to point out that each run of the monthly ECMWF has been somewhat similar over the past week too.


Based on these maps:

  • There’s no indication that we have a sudden turn-around just two weeks away like we did last year at this time
  • Warmer than normal mountain temperatures will continue
  • There may be a bit wetter period coming up around the 2nd-8th of February
  • Winter (or what is supposed to be winter) may just gradually fade away in mid-late February as higher sun angle and longer days can break up valley inversions easier.

By the way, maps last year at this time DID show the big change.  Look at the week 3 map from January 20th; quite a bit different from what we’re seeing now eh?


You notice I haven’t mentioned snow or cold in the lowlands.  That’s because none of these maps, or maps from any other model show anything close to that.  If we don’t get an arctic freeze in the next 3 weeks it’s not going to happen this year.  Sure, we could have a few cold days even in late February, but nothing long-lasting.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen