Snowpack & Skiing Update: Looking Even Worse


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

54 Responses to Snowpack & Skiing Update: Looking Even Worse

  1. Brian Schmit says:

    1/25/2015 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:81 at FLYNN PRAIRIE(1543 ft) & EMIGRANT(3840 ft)
    Low: 60 at GOODWIN PEAK(1800 ft) & CANNIBAL MOUNTAI(1939 ft)

    High:35 at HEREFORD(3599 ft) & UNITY DAM AND BU(3757 ft) & CW3808 Enterpris(3927 ft) & KB7DZR Joseph(3984 ft)
    Low: 18 at CROW FLAT (5172 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 44 degrees
    Horse Ridge (US (72/28 ) (4160 ft )

  2. chiefWright (Marquam) says:

    I do remember 1977. ‘Twas the first year we moved to Port Angeles, and Hurricane Ridge had zero– repeat, zero– snowpack until mid-February. The the famous NW spring snowdump occured and the snowpack ended up to be 85% of normal (ish).

    That said, back-to-back sucky winters is no good thing.

    I’m waiting for the climate-change naysayers to chime in.

    Or maybe they’re off looking for another topic to discredit.

  3. Jason Hougak says:

    Temps for this winter if bet are warmest in history for the Cascades. The 850mb temps haven’t been below freezing since New Years and don’t see any freezing weather the next 2 plus weeks! What a shame… what a shame

  4. Jason Hougak says:

    Might get 60-65 up here in the foothills this weekend. Will be nice but we better be due for one heck of a winter in the upcoming years to make up for this one! Alaska is finally getting back to winter now, maybe something will manage to make its way down here but highly doubtful. “Where’s our winter!!!” I’d love a cold snowy, rainy, stormy, never ending winter followed by a hot summer enjoying what winter brought full reservoirs and snow capped peaks feeding the watersheds. Oregon be prepared to pay the piper this summer!

  5. David B. says:

    This is getting a bit ridiculous… highs in the upper 50s and lows only in the 40s? Can’t we get some decent “fake cold” out of a January high pressure system anymore?

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      It has to start on the “coolish” side for that to happen. We’re starting very mild this time.

    • David B. says:

      Would dew point have something to do with it, too? Too high and the fog forms in the mid/upper 40s and interferes with further radiational cooling?

  6. steve says:

    Going to be an awesome warm week ahead..all hail global warming

  7. Brian Schmit says:

    12z GFS ensembles clearly show two huge ridge situations over the next 10 days

  8. W7ENK says:

    How sad… I think these temps might be 5-10 degrees too high for the Valley.

  9. W7ENK says:

    This morning’s sunrise was… wow.

    Just, WOW!

  10. MasterNate says:

    Wow, look at Sunday and Monday. Really hope we don’t get stuck in the fog.

  11. dharmabum says:

    Look at the bright side, SUV and Truck sales are way up, happy days are here again.

  12. Jason Hougak says:

    Enjoy no winter❄️
    Oregon’s 🌲 are gonna🔥🔥🔥

  13. Okay, at this point it seems we can’t get rid of that pesky ridge. Well, I’ll take a week of straight sunshine in February. As long as there are some nights with freezing temperatures. I recall the Winter Olympics 5 years ago in my home town. What saved things then was the dry spell we had at the time of the games. It’s at least better than the dreary low clouds and rain.

  14. Brian Schmit says:

    1/22/2015 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:63 at Brookings Airpor( 459 ft)
    Low: 49 at OCNSID Oceanside(22 ft)

    High:24 at DW9628 Richland(4046 ft)
    Low: 3 at CRANE PRAIRIE (5500 ft ) & CROW FLAT (5172 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 33 degrees
    CRANE PRAIRIE (36/3 ) (5500 ft )

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    0.08″ at k5vp Newberg(177ft)

  15. I am actually a little concerned for this summer. Last summer was bad enough with only 1 dry winter but this one with 2 dry winters in a row? I’d like to hear a farmers response to this as well to see how concerned they are with this.

    • MasterNate says:

      Well, if your irrigating from a surface water source, not good. If your using ground water for your source, then not a big deal. The ground water aquifers charge rather quickly with fall storms. I hope our spring rains are enough to fill reservoirs and we still can get good snow in the mountains late February, March and April. I manage a farm that uses Molalla river water as its source and I am concerned as its flow depends greatly on snow pack. I also have a farm that uses ground water and I’m not concerned with irrigating there. The long dry summer can lead to more farmers pulling ground water which in turn could effect me at that point. I can only speak for this area. Southern valley and south central especially depend on snow pack for surface water distribution.

    • MasterNate says:

      BTW. On Marks last post, Fish On! I thought more people would take the bait but Mark posted too quickly. Needed more time in the water.

  16. Now wait a minute. It is better than January 1977, believe me. So it could be worse……………………

  17. Boydo3 N. Albany elev. just under 500' says:

    Larry…still got the grill smokin’? The jumpers are jumping like lemmings! I’ll be drifting down with a big para-chute full of beverages 🙂

  18. Hi Mark

    Great post on the blog here tonight on the snow pack even though it was pretty much what I had already known.

    The last I heard just a few days ago was that there was 68 inches of snow on the ground at Paradise on Mount Rainier which is a joke for this time of the year. Snowshoeing is allowed and so is skiing for that matter but even at 5,420 feet your better off packing your snowshoes or skis up and heading up higher for somewhere above 7,000 feet. I have heard there have been plenty of good days for skiers and snowboarders who want to make the hike up to get in runs up on the Muir Snowfield on the south side of Mount Rainier. The snow is often untouched up there for those who rise early enough to make such a trek.

    Below 5,000 feet up in that area things look really dim in a hurry. Even more so below the Nisqually Glacier Bridge the snow is almost non-existent below 4,000 feet at that level. Longmire at 2,762 feet inside the park had just 1 inch of snow on the ground a few days ago when I checked on Paradise. That is really bad! There should be around at least 2 to 3 feet of good solid snow pack there at that level.

    A friend of mine who lives at Ashford (1,450 feet) outside the west side of the park said she has had significant snow only once this season and it was like about 3 inches and that is it.

    I wish my health would allow it. I would go apply right now for wildfire fighting jobs right now with the agencies such as the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. Hear that out there young people who read the blog? If you want one of those jobs the time to apply is right NOW. All hiring is often closed by spring since that is when a lot of training for the summer season begins. Yes these jobs can and do at times lead to full time year round work and are always in demand for those who especially have wildfire fighting experience. Good luck in applying to anyone if your interested.

  19. W7ENK says:

    Time to start focusing on severe water shortages and extreme fire danger!

  20. Seahawks Fan - East Vancouver says:

    So… Do we blame Steve Pierce for the “45 day” guarantee thing? It evolved into an epic jinx for us all!

  21. GTS1K' says:

    In the immortal words of Bill the Cat….ACK!

  22. Sapo says:

    Yeah, the mountain snowpack looks terrible and not looking likely for lowland snow…Sad

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