Worst Early January Snow Pack Since 1990 On Mt. Hood; But Lots of Snow Ahead!

January 1, 2020

9pm Wednesday…

Happy New Year!  Weather in the lowlands of western Oregon and southwest Washington appears to be relatively uneventful through the weekend, so let’s talk Cascade snow.

There IS skiing/snowboarding in the mountains right now, but this is the first time in many years we’ve got three Cascade ski resorts (mostly) unable to operate all the way through Christmas Break.  Heavy rain at the resorts New Year’s Eve sure didn’t help.  Hoodoo today announced they can’t remain open any longer, plus they had less than 18″ snow on the ground before the rain.   It looked like this today


Willamette Pass has not been open this week.  Skibowl is going gangbusters with their Cosmic Tubing, but none of the chairlifts are able to operate.


Even up at 5,000′ (top of Upper Bowl), there is only 15″ snow on the ground!  This is about 25% of normal for this date.  In fact much of Oregon is well below average


There are many “SNOTEL” sites that measure snow depth and snow water equivalent across the Western USA.  You can see what’s happening; lots of snow and precipitation across the Southwest, and poor snow pack in the Northwest.


This is the result of either warm storms, or weak/warm storms so far this season.

At the Mt. Hood Test Site (bottom of Pucci lift at Timberline), there is about 7.40″ “snow water equivalent” in the 23″ of snow on the ground.  This is the lowest total for January 1st since 1990 at this location.  If you are an older skier you may remember some of the other “lowest 5”:  1981, 2005, 2014, 2015.

So what happened during the 2nd half of winter in those years?

1981: Really rough season continued, poor ski conditions all winter

1990: Heavy snow January/February,fantastic turnaround w/numerous storms

2005: Worst ski season since 2005; several pineapple express events in January/February

2014: Bad January, but big snow in February & March, excellent late season!

2015:  Terrible year; even higher ski areas had trouble keeping terrain open

2020?  We’ll see!

As you can see, in some years there is a dramatic turnaround as cold storms start plowing inland after the beginning of the year.  There are hints that might be the case this year.

What do I see in the next 10 days?   A bunch of snow!

First, tonight things are looking much better.  Approximately 4-7″ have fallen at the Mt. Hood resorts since the changeover to snow today.  A few more inches will fall tonight and tomorrow morning.

Then all models are showing a change toward colder storms and more snow (beginning Saturday)…that’s the very good news.   But will it be a temporary change and/or not especially wet/white?  We don’t know yet.

In general I see several feet of snow at the ski resorts (all of them) in the next 7 days.  I think it’s likely those three lower resorts will be able to open up within the next week.  And the higher resorts can get more terrain open too.  That’s better than 2005 and 2015 already.  Here’s my forecast for Government Camp; looks much better eh?

7 Day Forecast Cascades Mt Hood Government Camp

I’m not seeing as much “splitting” in storms this weekend and through the latter half of next week.  That’s compared to what we’ve seen all through November and December.

We’ll see how it plays out, but it’s interesting there is still no sign of typical Pacific storms moving onshore with a strong westerly jet stream.  In the case of this next week, it’s weak systems that move over the top of an eastern Pacific upper-level ridge.  They slide down into the Pacific Northwest, but they pick up enough moisture to bring some decent snow to the mountains.  Some models (GFS) keep trying to turn the pattern into a full-on arctic outbreak situation about 10 days from now.  That setup brings a winter blast and sometimes snow to sea-level.  But other models are not showing that.  At least for now.  Within 5-7 days we should know if we’ll see some mid-late January weather fun.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen