Could Be The Worst Ski Season in 40+ Years, But Alpine Slide Will Open in March!

Mt. Hood Skibowl says they are now planning to open up much of their summer adventure park by Oregon’s Spring Break, just two weeks away.  Probably a good choice since we don’t see any sort of snowy weather pattern ahead (note previous post) and their slopes look like this:


This ski season is about to enter into uncharted territory; conditions are developing that we have not seen at least since I was born (1969).  Am I being a bit dramatic?  I don’t think so…let me explain.

First, the current situation:


80-90% of the typical snowpack we see on the ground this time of the year doesn’t exist in the Cascades!


There is no snow on the ground below the 5,000′ elevation and Willamette Pass has announced they are finished for the season on their website.

In NUMEROUS past seasons we have seen a terrible start to the ski season turn into either average or great conditions.  Remember last year was terrible until the first week of February and then great powder conditions for several weeks.  In ALMOST ALL OTHER SEASONS we have seen the turnaround to cool/wet by the 1st of March.

In our area, the (publicly available) snow depth observations for Mt. Hood only go back to the early 1970s at Timberline Lodge so I can only see back to that point.  Right now there is 49″ of snow on the ground at that 6,000′ location.

There are only three REALLY BAD years, where snow depth was still under 50″ on March 1st.  Older ski bums remember these years.  2004-2005, 1980-1981, 1976-77.  Thanks the Ski Mountaineering site for the chart.


In 1976-77 the pattern changed in early March and the snow accumulated quickly.  So we know this year will be worse than ’76-77 with no recovery in at least the first half of March.  We also know that the entire 2nd half of March 2004-05 saw a ton of snow with the best skiing of winter over Spring Break.  So most likely we’ll be worse off than that year.  In 1980-81 the 2nd half of the month saw the depth go from around 35″ to 60″.  That still looks unlikely, but possible.

To wrap it up, in less than two weeks we’ll likely be experiencing the worst or 2nd worst snow season in the Cascades in the past 45+ years!

By the way, this evening’s fresh new GFS model has either warm and dry, or warm and wet in the mountains for the next 16 days.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

81 Responses to Could Be The Worst Ski Season in 40+ Years, But Alpine Slide Will Open in March!

  1. […] a brutal ski season, Mt. Hood Skibowl says it is the worst they have seen since the 1950s!  And as I detailed in a blog posting 8 days ago, we are now entering uncharted territory.  We’ve never seen snow conditions this bad on […]

  2. Lee says:

    Just looked at the weather models, wow, another polar dip all the way to new New Mexico they hit 28°F.

    for us looks like a small storm. won’t put it past it if it sneaks a few winds in as well as the rain.

  3. Lee says:

    Small Craft for Wind Advisory

  4. Jason Hougak says:

    Mark is there a big fence between lack of snowpack and non existing snowpack? Because currently there is no snowpack. The snowpack with rain helps add runoff well into late spring to supply a good summer storage. If the lakes aren’t filling and Portland is already drawing down their storage that would not be good.
    I don’t see the Bull Run being able to provide water throughout the summer in its current state. The soil is so thirsty that most “storms” are only going to be absorbed and not runoff into the watershed. Its gonna need some serious precip in order to keep the storage levels up before summer hits.
    I’d be nice the find a site with lake level showing high/ low/ and current levels.

    • Lee says:

      Do you get any pictures or vid?
      some of us can not make it up there and it would be great to see some of the vid and or pics.

      I am in Southwest Washington Mt St Helens, which feeds the Cowlitz is glimmering with snow.. how much it has I am not sure of.

      Already the Cowlitz has beaches showing as though it were June.

      i will try and get some vids later.

      My gut feeling, be ready for a hot summer with record breaking temps.

      I think we might get a few tornadoes in the mix.
      i hope to be wrong on that especially with what occurred in Longview Washington.

      I have a feeling we will be looking at some serious thunderstorms.
      On the plus side, I hope it will be great growing weather for food bearing plants.

      but I think I will be using an air conditioning unit in a green house.

      All i can say is we should be ready.
      Black outs can occur if power companies become overly taxed.

      All in All. I think we are stuck that one area of high pressure just won’t budge.

      i think we are looking at a new norm.
      All i can say is were in for a tough time.

      i suppose if worse comes to worse, i could get an indoor grow house.for food bearing plants.

      Those of us with animals will have to be extra sensitive to their needs.

      those of us with high health risks, well we will need to take care.of ourselves.

      and just because you have a fan doesn’t mean you will be just means you have turned your place into a convection oven unless you turn on your shower for cold water.

      but then there goes the water bill.

    • W7ENK says:

      All in one place, plus others:

      And here’s a prime example of how quickly a good rainfall can replenish the water supply at Bull Run (from last October).

  5. Jason Hougak says:

    Just got back from La Pine and you want to talk about bone dry. It’s a box of matches down there. Toward Gilchrist they were doing some prescribed burning. Sure would be nervous doing that and having it get outa hand and burn down the whole valley.
    As for any recreational fires in the mountains is say the Forest Service would be foolish to allow campfires. The dryness even over Hwy 26 is like late summer. The ground just snaps crackles and pops. Year for the record books and hope not to be repeated.

  6. High Desert Mat says:

    Still wanting to hear Marks take on the PV, Hadley cells, tropical forcing, and the MJO. Take on how they effect our our weather long term and if they indeed have that great of an effect on our weather locally and instantly. Maybe a new blog post on the subject?

  7. JJ78259 says:

    Beautiful 80 degree weather in Daytona beach today. Here with family for spring break and to check out bike week here in Daytona! The rides are cool and the weather is hot. My girls over did it the sun today a little crispy.

  8. David B. says:

    After a long run of clear days the morning inversion has yet to burn off on most of the west side of Puget Sound today. Still overcast at noon, and I’m now about 8 to 10 degrees colder than areas in the sun.

    I’d still be very surprised if it lasts all day, however. The sun is a bit strong for that by this time of year. Sad when an inversion is the most exciting weather of the past week, though it looks like a system may be headed our way in a few days.

  9. schmit44 says:

    3/8/2015 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:77 at AGNESS2( 247 ft)
    Low: 53 at QUAIL PRAIRIE LO(3183 ft) & BALD KNOB(3630 ft)

    High:40 at HOWARD Mt Howard(8150 ft)
    Low: 10 at CROW FLAT (5172 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 54 degrees
    CHRISTMAS VALLEY (68/14 ) (4360 ft )

  10. Jason Hougak says:

    Dooms day on the horizon this summer

  11. PurpleHaze says:

    Dam! My comment got deleted because it asked me to login!

    I was going to post something rather long about the PV and the breakdown needed but never mind now! 😦

    A huge 30 degree temp swing here with a low of 34F and a high of 69F! I hate how WordPress doesn’t save you’re comment so you can login and complete you’re work.

    Anybody else ever posted something long and thought provoking then only to do something stupid and have it all deleted before you can post it?

    Our water won’t run out initially but what will happen is that California will bounce right back into severe/exceptionable drought status (for both sides) and will borrow water from us and Washington since they are the only state not unusually dry.

    With both us and California super dry they won’t have as much to borrow from since we also have to supply ourselves which means super price hikes like you’ve never seen on water bills.

    Sad thing is when that PV breakdown does occur and we get butt slammed with monster Pacific storms they won’t lower the water bills and it will become the new normal to lure us into a deep sleep due to the monopolies the companies have which is abusing capitalism to the core in order to chase away healthy competition.

    I wish the water companies were not deregulated.

    • We don’t have water for California to barrow. California can survive themselves us nor Washington should be responsible for their problem while we got problems of our own. It is illogical.

    • WEATHERDAN says:

      Congress passed laws back in the 1970,s that prohibits California from taking water from the Pacific Northwest unless Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia all agree Good luck on that happening. Peace

      • Lee says:

        barometer is showing 2968 InHg.
        12 hours ago it was 2980 InHg.
        Low was 34
        high was 69
        current is 57
        wind 0 peak was 6 mph.
        humidity is at 57%

        ACU RITE still in learning mode.
        time: 6:08 pm
        date: 3/09

        I purchased this unit because none of the local
        for casts seem to be accurate for this area.
        I hope that the data I am feeding gives you guys a glimpse at how our micro climate seems to have an impact on accurate weather forecasts.

        I do have the storm alarm set.
        humidity just changed to 66%

    • Jake-(Gresham) says:

      WEATHERDAN that may happen if it becomes a crisis. Not trying to paint a dark picture for this summer but we’re not looking too good right now across the West.

  12. Jake-(Gresham) says:

    Went and played tennis around 1pm with my brother. I was starting to look at the shade after a while. Hahaha! Awesome weather!

  13. Jason Hougak says:

    How long or much of a ” rainy period” does the Portland water bureau mean?

  14. Lee says:

    We just hit 71 here in Castle Rock Washington.

  15. Purplehaze says:

    Until we see a true breakdown of the PV over the Hudson bay de-couple the ridiculously resilient ridge isn’t going to go away any time soon.

    The tropical forcing mechanism will continue to remain as it is with the Hadley cells seemingly stuck and we won’t have the MJO in the sweet spot for a true pattern change.

    This is likely be our new climate norm until those things above happen which once in a blue moon we will get a brief change like the quick cold spell in November but nothing meaningful or lasting.

    • High Desert Mat says:

      I read these theories all the time over on western. I would love to hear Marks thoughts on these matters. Others as well I’m sure. Please Mark?

    • PurpleHaze says:

      We will be fine water wise until California has it’s first major heatwave then they will suddenly borrow water from us and that’s when low supplies will start happening and price hikes like you and I have never seen before.

      In the bad 1976 drought both Oregon and Northern California had a much smaller population per capita.

      Heck Chico and Redding in the Northern Sacramento Valley did not extend very far out of downtown and highway 99 had no freeway parts to it.

      Chico in 1976 was about the size of McMinnville Oregon currently and as scary as it is it will also be amazing to see the effects of this drought on a doubled population.

      Oh and we use LOTS more AC then back then.

  16. Lee says:

    We Just Hit 68°F our morning temps was 36°F. that is a 32° jump.
    it is sorta like what happens in the desert areas. almost.

    The Barometer 2977 and Falling?

    it is a beautiful sunny day.
    My Weather station is currently in “Learning Mode”.

  17. WEATHERDAN says:

    Sunny and 61 at 1:30 PM. On pace to hit 70 today. Nice way to start DST. Sunset today in Salem is 7:09 PM. Great day to grill some steaks outside. Peace.

  18. JJ78259 says:

    Heavy rain flash flooding in San Antonio today and tomorrow. Water restrictions could be lifted by the end of the week as the drought is coming to an end.

  19. schmit44 says:

    3/7/2015 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:78 at AGNESS2( 247 ft)
    Low: 52 at RED MOUND(1753 ft)

    High:41 at HOWARD Mt Howard(8150 ft)
    Low: 13 at CROW FLAT (5172 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 55 degrees
    Lorella (69/14 ) (4160 ft )

  20. vernonia1 says:

    Tonite is clock nite right? 🙂

  21. This was the driest opening week of March I’ve recorded since 1984. Just 0.06 inches. I know it’s bad for snowlovers, but at least we’re getting lots of sun now- something I prefer over the days of overcast wet conditions.

  22. Jake-(Gresham) says:

    This weather is so odd. A little bit of rain in the forecast with spikes of warm temperatures in between (Sunday for example) is harken to May like weather minus the temperature being lower on average because of sun angle but still; we’re way off. O_o

  23. MasterNate says:
    Updated 3 days ago

  24. Jason Hougak says:

    The Bull Run Watershed is not just a rainfall based watershed. It relies on a combination of lower elevation rainfall and higher elevation snowpack in order to feed Portlands water supply. With no snowpack for rain to combine with snowmelt then it is highly likely that the Bull Run Watershed will be shutdown this summer and replaced with the Columbia backup wells. Stream flows need to be maintained downstream as well as a minimum pool in the reservoirs. Unless we get hit by Pineapple expresses into the spring and summer I’d say the Bull Run is in a state of despair.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      I’ve been told that by Portland Water people. A significant rainy period in the spring can easily overcome lack of snowpack in winter…IN THAT WATERSHED. Maybe not in other places though

    • I know it is way out of the way of Oregon because even though I read the stuff here on Mark’s blog every time I can I still only am able to hear what comes over the news wires from out of Seattle because I live in Tacoma.

      Things so far are not being pinned as so bleak as the above mentioned stuff here. In fact the Seattle Water supply people say that things are in fine shape in the Cedar Lake watershed and for now at least there is ample water. Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond the other day mentioned that the water year totals for overall precipitation have actually been normal or a little above for many Washington Cascade areas. All areas have below normal snow pack despite those more positive numbers pointed out by Nick.

      As I mentioned on Facebook I would be most worried about fuels drying out around the region if we have an exceptional dry summer as well as a very near record warm summer like we did last year. Abundant dry fuels available in the forests and on other lands would surely lead to a busy fire season if abundant lightning shows up this summer.

      Will the water quit running? I don’t believe so. I was here all the way back in 1976-77 and in junior high at the time and surely don’t remember not being able to use water or even for that matter drink a glass of it. The 1976-77 season was about as bad as it gets around here too.

    • runrain says:

      There’s 2.2 million people in the Portland metro area now. We’ve grown a bit since ’76-’77. And a lot more breweries now too. My gosh, let’s hope there’s not craft beer shortage this summer. THEN it will be time to panic 🙂

    • Purplehaze says:

      Then you will see the riots where people crap in public and burn cop cars thinking they are being cool on TV.

    • Sapo says:

      Yes, I hope it rains for a good week or two in the next couple of months, but with this pattern it might not happen. GFS ensemble is looking mainly dry for the next 15 days, hey, at least spring break will probably be nice!

    • W7ENK says:

      The highest point along the rim of the Bull Run Watershed is Larch Mountain, at just a tad over 4,000 feet. A good 95% of the terrain within it is below 2,000 feet. Snow melt contributes only a very minimal amount toward the runoff into the basin, even in heavy snow years.

      Now, any of the rivers that have headwaters in the High Cascades that rely more heavily on snowpack (i.e: Clackamas, Sandy, Molalla, Santiam, McKenzie, Willamette, White, Deschutes, etc…), those may be severely lacking water come July, August and into September, unless we have a wet summer.

  25. Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

    5 of 7 mornings below freezing out here. The coldest was 24 on the 4th.

    Yesterday hit 66. This spring weather is amazing!

  26. schmit44 says:

    3/6/2015 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:74 at MERLIN SEED ORCH(1144 ft)
    Low: 51 at RED MOUND(1753 ft)

    High:45 at Mount Hood Meado(6601 ft) & CW7477 Lostine(7002 ft) & Lake(6184 ft) & HOWARD Mt Howard(8150 ft)
    Low: 10 at CROW FLAT (5172 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 54 degrees
    Lorella (68/14 ) (4160 ft )

    • Lee says:

      While it is bad news for skiers, it is good news for those of us with Solar Units who collect the sun’s rays and convert it in to power.

      I have a fledgling system . It is only 135 watts but it is growing. for now I can run blue ray player, vcr, and a stereo using the sun.

      This weather is also exceptional for our greenhouse.

      we are starting strawberries, asparagus, and a few other things as our son has Hyperphenalanemia aka Phenylketonuria or PKU for short.

      We Started Patrick’s PKU Farmhouse and PKU Food Fort so that we will have a slightly less food bill.

      Our son will never have a taste of steak, eggs, regular bread, pork and beans..and…yes..Even …Donuts ( unless we make them special) I can see the weather team right now…yes, I know what you guys live off of lol. TV Fields especially. I was. volunteer for KLTV a long time ago.

      At any rate, we woke up to 32°F this morning we had light frost and no wind.

      The sun is a great site to see as it works our greenhouses and starts kicking off the heaters we have in them to protect from the freezing nites. I hope the freezing stops soon.

      I am curious as to what the weather is doing to our food stores.
      I hear a lot about the poor skiers , but I am wondering how this cold snap is affecting our food crops here in the US.

      Se for me, I enjoy the sun and dryer weather.
      I probably won’t be enjoying a heat wave that will be coming in May or June though July, well, I am guessing if things don’t change were looking at a very active wild fire season.

      Well, you all take care, I am going to mosey on out and leave you all to your coffee , cookies, and..Donuts (drools at all the above accept for cofee..I detest the stuff).

      Might make some cookies in the NuWave..yum..

      Well of to get some chive and sage to make some yummy scrambled eggs. Our cilantro is to you to havest. next month we are getting rosemary, thyme, and oregano. .yummers..along with a pepper plant..

      Hmm..make some nice Vegetarian dish for our son once the aspergus comes to life. hmm some bell peppers and asparagus with some broccoli and such..yummy for him.

      keep up the good work..and please no more spilling the cofee on the HARRP control panel, I think the Eastern states can use a break…

      you all have an awesome day. and thank you for the service. even though the models can be a tad finicky.

  27. MasterNate says:

    Since our weather has been so boring, I found something worth talking about.

    • MasterNate says:

      I’m leaning towards #6. Looks like the reflection of giant mirrors.

    • Lee says:

      I hope It is is a space craft, and not a crashed one.
      It would be rather nice to wave back to et. Although our satellites whizzing by them is probably making them think..Great, Earth is getting in to the race…There goes peace. .

  28. So is this going to be the earliest phenological spring ever for the lowlands? I will be VERY curious to see how far along vegetation is by the last week of March this year!

  29. WEATHERDAN says:

    61 with filtered sunshine at 1:30 PM. Should reach about 67. Looks good for about 70 or so this weekend. Even Spring break not looking too bad. Kind of reminds me of March 1979. Peace.

  30. Jason Hougak says:

    Thanks Mark for the post. Hey maybe… April will bring some high mountain relief? You never know. Like I previously posted I’m sad to see the season end so bad. I remember skiing in May 2011 just before my son was born on the last day they were open. 6″ of fresh with about 130″ base still on the ground, rediculous they had to close. Skiing was awesome.
    You know has anybody even done a report on the Bull Run Water supply and problem Portland is gonna have when it runs to minimal storage. Be prepared Portland to pay the piper, your water will be coming from the backup wells. With the wells they take power and you water bills are gonna go through the roof.

  31. W7ENK says:

    This is beyond ridiculous.

  32. chiefWright (Marquam) says:

    Wringing our hands over the loss of skiing seems mild compared to the hardships of a true drought with water rationing, unusable/ damaged infrastructure, fire hazard, crop loss, soil loss, etc. But that’s just my own subjective fear/uncertainty/doubt. And I trust my own opinion about as much as I trust any other opinion.

    What about predictive capability? Is there any objective analysis suggesting what the water supply/water levels might be later this year, assuming there will be no more snow accumulation below 5000′ this spring?

    • David B. says:

      The odds favor a bad fire season this year. Mid-elevation forests are current snow-free (when there should be feet of it) and upper-elevation ones are snow-deficient.

      In a normal year, much of that snow is still around when the summer dry season kicks in. That delays how soon the mountain forests dry out. This year, they’re going to get super-dry super early and stay that way for a super-long time, unless we have one of our unusual cool and damp summers.

      The middle and upper elevations tend to escape most of the summer marine layer effects and so have drier air in the summer anyhow, so they really need the delaying effect of the summertime dessication that a snowpack typically provides.

    • Mike says:

      Has there ever been a pattern of dry winters and wet summers? Hoping this year we get the wet summer. We have a lot of forest land to be concerned about.

  33. David B. says:

    F T R

  34. runrain says:

    They need to turn off the Benson Bubblers downtown. That’s a lot of water running 24/7.

  35. schmit44 says:


  36. schmit44 says:

    3/5/2015 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:72 at AGNESS2( 247 ft)
    Low: 49 at RED MOUND(1753 ft)

    High:41 at HOWARD Mt Howard(8150 ft) & HARL BUTTE(6071 ft)
    Low: 2 at CRANE PRAIRIE (5500 ft ) & CROW FLAT (5172 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 54 degrees
    CHRISTMAS VALLEY (64/10 ) (4360 ft )

  37. Purplehaze says:

    In the grand scheme of things it won’t matter that we got that dump of snow around Christmas if we have a warm spring we will be facing serious water rationing by August like most of you have never experienced and it won’t be funny.

    Hopefully both spring and the summer temps are near normal means so it won’t be too bad and we can squeak by another close call even if we don’t get much rain.

    I wonder if here in Salem area will be 10 degrees hotter again with super muggy minimums for a third straight year?

    Low of 31F today and a high of 62F! Welcome to The Dalles in the Willamette Valley!

  38. slim1357 says:

    I see that 05-06 had tons of snow and 77-78 had ok snow pack. If we get three years in a row of terrible ski seasons are we into uncharted territory?

    • Eugene Dave says:

      We’re already into uncharted territory. There has never been 2 back to back terrible seasons like this as far as records have been kept. 😦

  39. I thought I’d never experience a worse winter than 1976-77 but it appears that I am… 😦

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      Getting real close! One difference (you notice it in the chart) is that the snowpack was extremely low through the entire season that year. There was no dumping of snow during the Christmas Break like this year.

    • I remember the Cascades got “some” relief in the first part of March. Not looking good for that so far as of yet.

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