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

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

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

  1. Rich Hardenstein says:

    3” rain so far (4 PM) west of Longview WA and in Clatskanie OR as measured by PWS 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  2. JohnD says:

    One thing is a bit annoying to me—as a life long W Oregonian. Yes, without a doubt, those of us so inclined, always pull for low elevation snow events. We do get it about our marginal marine based climate. But we also know full well that bonafide winter weather events can and do occur here on certain occasion. Our weather history is chock full of them. In fair likelihood we are on the precipice of yet another one. Hardly the first, like some seem to characterize; and definitely not the last!

    • JohnD says:

      E.g. There “is” a reason that PBOT has 55 full service snow plows/sanders in waiting each year. My wife was born and raised in Massachusetts; she reminds me that even there, their “first” snow events of the season create some jitters. My response in jest is that here our “first” event may be our “only” event! She long since became “one of us”!

  3. Grizzly Bear says:

    How interesting to read the blog, most all of you keep hoping for cold snowy weather then you are constantly disappointed. I do hope it turns out for you all considering you live in the maritime NW adjacent to the largest ocean in the world with a relatively warm water mass. A lot to expect anything but moderate weather when you understand these physical attributes.

    • Tanis Leach says:

      Hoping is not the same as the most likely scenario. A lot of us who hope also know that the chances are not in our favor on average.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Finally some snowflakes in the 7 day forecast!

  5. Joshua Lake Oswego says:

    The 18z GFS is all in on the cold. High temperatures next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday = 24, 17, 15. Single digit lows on Wednesday morning. Not going to happen, but fun to imagine.

  6. Jason Hougak says:

    The GFS models bring in NW flow vs N. flow which will be better at bringing snow especially to the higher terrain. As we get closer we’ll start to really know if the lowland flat landers will get any.

    • Ziggy says:

      This is going to be a rough forecast, most likely 1000′ snow levels. Unfortunate for those hoping for one last chance this winter.

      • K says:

        Ok, what do you mean “one last chance”? February has delivered the past three winters, has it not?

        • Tanis Leach says:

          Not 2016-17. Does Jan 10th 2017 have any memory with you. 3 winters ago.

        • K says:

          2016-2017 had February 5th, which delivered for much of the Seattle area and parts of the far west metro area (and nearly the entire metro area had small implications not occurred). Not to mention February 2014 as well.

        • Ziggy says:

          After the latest models come in its evidence that Portland gets nothing but maybe a few chunky rain showers.

          Like I said it sucks but maybe next year.

        • K says:

          Again, I’m not sure what models you are looking at, but ensembles, operationals, and control runs show us getting very cold. It is way too early to be saying, “maybe next year”, but you do you.

        • Evan -- Cedar Mill says:

          Hmmm curious as to which models have you concerned?

  7. WEATHERDAN says:

    When this trend towards colder weather started it was 16 days out. It is now 7 days out. That happens quite a bit actually. By that I mean these things sometimes get pushed back by a day or two or three. The important thing is that it has just about moved to the limit of the 7 day forecast that NWS uses. Mark uses a 7 day forecast. If we see it starting to show up in the 7 days forecasts we may have something. So if we see nothing by Tuesdays afternoon 7 day forecast it probably won’t happen. Until then I will wait and hope. Peace.

  8. Ziggy says:

    Not to be a debbie downer, but is everyone noticing how it keeps getting pushed back? Models are really having a tough time bringing the goods into the area. It want to but as we all know its almost impossible to get things just right.

    On another note, what a perfect day today to be inside watching football. Go EAGLES!!

    • Evan -- Cedar Mill says:

      Yes, definitely noticing that. It is concerning indeed.

      • Mike says:

        Arctic blasts are just not developing this time around. I think the models work on averages for the time of year and that’s what’s got our hopes up. I hope I’m wrong of course, but I usually wait till I see a radical push of warm air or storm rise up into canada/ Alaska and then what comes behind it will push radically south. All seems to work together somehow.

    • K says:

      I mean….not really, models have been consistent for a while with the main fun for PDX starting after this weekend. EURO is actually on board with possible snow, as is the EPS and GEM ensembles. Will it happen? We’ll see.

  9. Ziggy says:

    99% chance this stays a foothill and above event. The mountains should make up a large majority of the loss it has, Sandy Or may also end up making out pretty good.

    You city dwellers may want to head to the west hills if you are thinking about any snow fun. This could also turn around and be a warm soaker, next week will be interesting.

  10. Scott Reeves says:

    January 15th watch that day

  11. Jason Hougak says:

    12Z GFS is only 70% done and has Portland at 20.6” through Jan. 16th following the 06Z GFS. Exciting to say the least.

    • Ken in Wood Village says:

      I know what your talking about. I’m watching it come in and I’m just amazed to see 850 temps running -13 C over the Portland area on the 14th. The 12Z GFS is at hour 324 and I see another Low coming down from Alaska. Wondering if we could see a possible snowstorm again!!

    • Ziggy says:

      That would cripple the entire metro💂‍♂️

  12. Jason Hougak says:

    Been a lot of fun watching even with all the naysayers. We’ve watched before and been disappointed but every weather event is different, like the snow apocalypse that nailed Portland. I enjoy the chance to be there for rare weather events.

  13. Evan -- Cedar Mill says:

    Wow this looks like a real possibility!

  14. Joshua Lake Oswego says:

    The 06z GFS is bonkers. Highs in the low 20s early next week. A few inches of snow a week from now too. Some of the ECMWF ensemble members are down with a full on artic blast next week with some snow to boot.

    • Registered Nerd says:

      My goodness! It’s definitely a cold one. The cold is starting to come into the short range (7day) so if things keep verifying over the next few days it could be go time. That said, we’ve seen these things change just overnight so until the cold and snow arrives I’ll just keep hoping. That said- I’ll have to stock up on kale and avocados this week to stay 1 step ahead of all the crazy Portlanders lol

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