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Saturday, April 19, 2014

2013-2014: A cold winter with a satisfying finish

The winter 2013-2014 is reaching a conclusion and if nothing else has earned a distinctiveness that should set it apart in our memory. 2011-12 will be remembered for all the wrong reasons and 2012-2013 was hardly distinctive at all. 2013-2014 however was remarkable in many ways. Most notable is the persistent cold. The period starting November 1st and ending March 31st was approximately 4 degrees below average and every month within that period was below average, culminating in March which was nearly 10 below average. All of those 3 occurrences are statistically impressive. The winter of 2013-14 defined by those 5 months is the coldest in over a quarter century and going back 50 years, only the winter of 2002-2003 featured 5 months of below normal temperatures in succession. March of 2014 was truly the grand finale. Relative to normal, it was the coldest in Vermont since the commencement of the blog 10 years ago. 

For some of our recent down years, the cold has been the missing ingredient in the weather pattern. This was not the case for much of 2013-14 but in spite of that, we had some struggles on the snow side that seemed to become statewide household knowledge. Every discussion relating to the weather seemed to refer to Vermont's lack of snow relative to the rest of the geographic world. This was very much an intuitive observation and was made by some very casual weather observers to say the least, even from people outside the state.  Intuition or not, the observation proves to be quite astute statistically in a relative sense, and is the 2nd most notable characteristic of the recent winter. Consider New York City receiving 56 inches of snow, Philadelphia 66", Detroit 94" and Chicago 81" all between 180 and 300 percent of normal. In the case of Michigan, many locations saw the snowiest winter ever recorded. Thanks to a big late season push, Vermont also saw above average snowfall but it wasn't by much and we were below average for the first two-thirds of the season. The big snow season in the Great Lakes region compared to the near normal season in Vermont I find particularly strange since the two regions are often on the receiving end of the same big storms, evidenced by the recent winters of 2010-2011 and 2007-2008. 

In spite of this, the season finished on a strong note and ranked better than the previous two. The mountain saw no rain in March until the very end of the month and only witnessed three 40-degree days. Compare that to 2012 which saw near 80-degree temperatures and a quick end to a miserable season by the early to middle part of the month. In a relative sense, we performed poorly but it was a solid season statistically that continues for portions of the high country both in Vermont and New Hampshire. 

There were two very important factors driving the particularly intense cold weather this season. I always tell people that from the standpoint of temperature, a winter is measured by the strength of the cold during the coldest periods. Outbreaks of cold this past winter were especially strong relative to normal and exceeded almost anything we have seen since January 2004. There will be differing opinions as to what root cause prevailed on the atmosphere during the winter but my opinion is that one relates to a feedback that started early last autumn. An unusually high build-up of early-mid autumn snow in the northern hemisphere helped the pooling efficiency of the polar air masses at high latitudes. The cold air effectively worked its way into mid-latitude North America early in the year, freezing the Hudson Bay on the earliest date in a decade and ultimately freezing 80 percent of the Great Lakes aggregate by late January. Freezing large bodies of water such as the Hudson Bay or the Great Lakes turns them into an additional breeding ground for cold. I felt as if almost every cold front this winter marked the leading edge of not just garden variety cold, but extreme cold of 20-30 degrees below average. The outbreak of cold and snow we received this past April 16th underscores this point. 

The second factor refers to a much talked about topic in recent winters the "Evil Empire". The "Evil Empire" coined a few years ago describes the phenomena of large upper trough over large upper ridge in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. The tightened jet stream which results from such an occurrence is so destructive for all of eastern ski country including Vermont and it was especially destructive during all of 2011-2012 and for a large portion of 2012-2013. There is a teleconnection index that essentially measures the strength of the "Evil Empire" called the Eastern Pacific Oscillation. A positive index indicates tightness in the Pacific Jet and the presence of the "EE" while a negative index refers to a looseness in the jet over the Pacific and the absence of the "EE". In spite of a flare-up here and there, the "Evil Empire" was largely a non-factor and the predominant feature in the up-stream jet configuration was a large upper ridge covering Alaska. There were interruptions but the Alaskan ridge was an incredibly persistent force throughout the winter, channeling cold from that region, straight into the middle part of North America, specifically the central provinces of Canada and the Midwest. The cold attacked the northeast as well but the brunt of it was felt across the central third of North America. The Alaskan ridge was a welcome change from winters of recent past but still at times was the catalyst for a detrimental storm track. The most ideal storm track for interior New England places a ridge over the western part over the Yukon or even the Northwest Territories of Canada. The placement of the ridge so far west allowed storms to ride up through the Great Lakes on several occasions both in late December and then again in that devastating thaw we saw between January 10th and 14th. The aforementioned January thaw was especially destructive since it consisted of nearly 80 hours of above-freezing temperatures there was no quick recovery to be found "In the wake of the flood" (Small GD reference but necessary since I am listening to some random GD concert as I write this). 

Ultimately the cold won the day and the months of February and March. The long wave pattern was able to flatten just enough to allow storms to take a more favorable track for snow across interior New England. The two big storms basically occurred exactly a month apart and on the anniversary of two of our favorite snow blitzes of the last quarter century. The first was a big, moist coastal bomb on Valentines Day and the second came at us from the Ohio Valley and occurred on March 12/13. Both delivered snowfall amounts just shy of 2 feet and produced outstanding stretches of skiing at MRG. 

We finally have some hard-earned warm weather to enjoy and with that the SCWB signs off for another season. I was fortunate enough to ski at MRG 8-days this winter (more than the previous two) and met some more great people. If you read the blog but typically ski or ride elsewhere you should certainly make plans to visit MRG in 2014-2015. It's a special place, especially in an era where skiing has experienced some hyper-commercialization. Enjoy the summer everyone, we will meet again come late this fall. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

MRG season to conclude with warm temperatures, soft snow and mostly rain-free

I have to confess I am a little tuned out on winter and snow thus the blog got a bit neglected. In spite of that, and the recent stretch of above-freezing days, deep snow remains across the high country of interior New England. MRG appears to be skiing quite nicely in spite of some recent rains and if you have been waiting for that sunny, good visibility day to attack the spring skiing then your wait will soon be over. Both Wednesday and Thursday should feature healthy doses of sunshine and warm afternoon temperatures, particularly Thursday where readings should climb into the 50's. Clouds will be more prevalent and we could see some light rain Thursday night or Friday but it shouldn't amount to much.

This brings us to the conclusion of the season at MRG and the weather appears as if it will cooperate. Clouds will gradually give way to some sunshine early Saturday, visibility will improve and temperatures will surge toward the 50-degree mark. On Sunday, clouds and moisture associated with a stronger push of warm temperatures will skirt northern New England but I think much of the wet weather will be confined to the St Lawrence Valley. There remains some disagreement amongst the models regarding this question but my educated guess is that the mountain stays dry although there could be more in the way of clouds. Once again, Sunday's temperatures should at least approach the 50 degree mark.

MRG will end its season Sunday, just in time for some 60 degree temperatures Monday followed by heavy rain possibly thunderstorms Monday night or Tuesday. A strong push of below normal temperatures along with some snow is then likely for the middle of the week. I know the skiing will continue for some but the blog will conclude with a final season wrap-up early next week.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Challenging forecast Saturday night involving exploding east coast storm

Very tricky forecast for Saturday night as a storm is expected to explode in the vicinity of the Delmarva and spread precipitation deep into New England. Temperatures are very, very marginal this weekend but the National Weather Service is concerned enough about a potential "heavy wet snow event" that they have posted a Winter Storm Watch for much of the region, MRG included. The justification for this comes from data released by successive runs of a higher resolution short term model. Other data from the more globally gridded, lower resolution medium range models suggest a warmer storm and mostly rain for areas below 2,000 feet. I am inclined to believe that this is a elevation sensitive event, especially when talking about snowfall totals. When some of the heaviest stuff is falling overnight Saturday, precipitation should be a gloppy snow but accumulations will be most significant across the high country, particularly from the mid-station up. When precipitation is not as heavy, it will likely fall as rain in the valley's and remain snow or mixed precipitation across the high country. There is a substantial amount of moisture associated with this storm and if we can keep most of this snow on top of the mountain, it could get very deep, even upwards of 10 or more inches. I don't expect Rt 100 to receive more than a gloppy inch or two and the base of MRG might even struggle to get anything more than a few wet inches. There are also indications of some invasive warm layers in the atmosphere that could change everyone to rain Sunday as precipitation lessens in intensity.

This remains a much more "spring" oriented pattern which means plenty of above freezing days over the next week. Monday through Wednesday will see readings into the 40's during the afternoons. By then end of the week, another significant storm system could impact the region. Temperatures may not be cold enough to support snow but I would not completely rule it out, especially this winter. The weekend of April 5th and 6th should see a return to below average temperatures and this could extend through part of the following week. Blogging for the duration of the season will be dependent on how late the mountain decides to stay open. I know there is some deep snow out there still but if MRG decides to ramp down the hours, the SCWB will do the same.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Some spring thawing is finally eminent beginning late this week

The big noreaster swirling off the New England coast did not provide the fireworks we hoped it would but this wasn't entirely unexpected. Meanwhile, unusually intense late-season cold is keeping the mountain quite frozen. We saw widespread sub zero temperatures Tuesday morning and we should see more of the same Thursday morning before temperatures finally take a late-day run at the freezing mark. The exiting cold will allow a more spring-like weather and temperature regime to commence over the mountain. There will be extended periods, beginning Friday, of above freezing temperatures thus allowing for the significant amounts of March snow to corn up and soften quite nicely. This being said, the warm weather does not appear to be particularly anomalous nor does it appear to be as significant as what I had advertised a few days ago. Nonetheless, it will mark the first significant shift toward spring-like weather on the mountain and most notably, will provide the opportunity for the "R" word to re-enter the vocabulary. 

Incredibly, the mountain has only touched 40-degrees one time this month which is quite an achievement in March and would be noteworthy even in January and February. Friday will be the second such day. Model data is suggesting that clouds would keep temperatures in the 40's but a few hours of sunshine could certainly boost readings to 50 near the base.  The extensive cloudiness and numerous weather systems over the next week is the big reason why the mild weather will be mitigated verses some of my own earlier expectations. A weather system Friday will weaken as it makes its approach late in the day but will bring a period of light rain to the mountain anyway. Temperatures will remain above freezing (high 30's or low 40's)  throughout Saturday underneath more cloudiness. Another and stronger storm system will then approach from the southwest and promises to bring more rain Saturday night which could end as some wet snow Sunday morning. 

The weather continues to look mild through the early part of the week with at least two days of 45 and perhaps one of these above 50. Another storm system could spread rain into the region Tuesday which yet again could end as some wet snow before colder weather arrives for the middle of the week. The break in the cold can somewhat be attributed to a huge surge in the AO index (The NAO also made a less significant surge). The index of both of these teleconnection indices is expected to be neutralized and perhaps even go negative by the first weekend in April. This would provide a brief window where we could see another round of wintry weather. Overall though, the thaw will finally be on across interior New England after one of the coldest month of March in half a century. 


Friday, March 21, 2014

Some snow and lots of cold for next 5 days but finally hints at some spring warmth on the horizon

Friday's snowfall brings the mountain to the 200-inch benchmark for the season. March has been nothing short of tremendous. We have yet to receive a drop of rain and have nearly 50 inches of new snow to play in. Saturday's storm track has moved north since the last update and it puts the mountain at the bottom edge of some of the best moisture which appears a bit more limited. Snow should begin around 9 AM Saturday morning and persist through a good part of the ski day. Total snowfall should be in the 3-5 inch range by Saturday evening.

The very impressive outbreak of late-March cold arrives for Sunday sending temperatures back into the teens and then back below zero Sunday night. More snow showers are possible for Sunday adding to the light accumulation from Saturday. The 25-30 degree below normal temperatures will solidify March of 2014 as one of the coldest in the last 100 years for interior New England. Records and statistics aside, the cold has been axiomatic as much of the state has added to snow depths this month as opposed to seeing any significant melt.

There has been a considerable amount of chatter regarding a storm in the middle of next week. As each day passes, it appears as if the storm is a threat mainly for the Mid-Atlantic states along with coastal New England. The storm will have an inverted trough (as some call it) that will progress east along its northern flank and may spread some snow into Vermont and New Hampshire on Tuesday night into Wednesday, but the snow appears to be light in nature. Mainly the Monday-Wednesday time frame will be cold. Depending on cloud cover, temperatures may struggle to reach 20 all three days.

There is finally some significant signs of a major shift in the overall pattern and one that would lead to the first substantial thaw of the spring season. Part of it can be attributed to the NAO which will shift into positive territory. Most of it however appears to be related to energy in the jet stream that is anticipated to be trapped across the mountain-west late next week. Temperatures will begin to moderate Thursday slightly but more so Friday. A storm system around the 30th may thwart part of this warm-up but ultimately there will be some very warm days toward the end of the month and into early April. The mountain has not seen anything close to 50 since the January thaw more than two months ago and certainly hasn't sniffed 60 since autumn. This stretch of warmth, which should peak very early in April will probably allow readings to eclipse both marks and finally provide the region with spring thaw and some spring skiing.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Coldest March in recent memory set for a big finish

And we have had some big March's in the 80's, 90's and not soon to be forgotten 2001. As far as cold is concerned however, March of 2014 is poised to take the throne. We can say this since it looks like Polar Vortex VII is ready send Vermont back in the deep freeze next week in spite of late March, the surpassing of the equinox and the official arrival of spring. It wild be called "record breaking" cold yet again but more accurately can be described as 100-year cold, but will nonetheless be very impressive no matter what you want to call it. After last week's big snow and the several additional events that are both likely and possible, the mountain is likely to have the snowiest month of the season and perhaps in several years if we are lucky.

I had hoped our first chance for snow late this Wednesday into early Thursday would be another 6-plus. It still could be, but the storm approaching from the midwest is likely to occlude and not get much of a needed boost from any coastal redevelopment. We are thus likely to see a swath of precipitation move through Wednesday night with temperatures close to 30 degrees on much of the mountain. Precipitation will stay all snow but will be briefer in nature and is not expected to be particularly intense. Snowfall should range in the 3-6 inch category by first tracks time Thursday. Enough for another powder, especially where its coldest (mid-mountain and up).

Thursday and Friday will be a rare period this month where temperatures could sneak above the freezing mark during the afternoon, especially in the lower part of the mountain. By Saturday, clouds and snow will move back into the region from what looks to be another, and more significant storm system.  This storm is expected to intensify as it begins to interact with the coast and snowfall is more likely to range in the 6-12 range between midday Saturday and early Sunday. Temperatures will return to the teens and 20's after the snow making it the 2nd powdery Sunday in a row

One of the more prevalent features this winter has been the development and repeated redevelopment of a ridge across Alaska. The weather has been mild this winter across the 49th state as a result but the more significant consequence for us has been the repeated Polar Vortex events, many of which have been especially intense compared to anything we have seen this past decade and beyond. Much of the midwest has been ground zero for the most intense cold this winter but the epicenter has shifted toward New England somewhat this month and the week beginning March 23rd promises to solidify the month as a historic one for cold across all of interior New England. Incredibly, we expect another several days next week of sub zero temperatures in the morning and  at least 2 days where temperatures fail to break 20, maybe even 15 with the help of clouds or snow. This is 25 below average and a 180 degree turn from 2012  which was as much as 30 above average on the warmest days. There are indications of a big coastal storm in the Tuesday/Wednesday time frame just prior to the arrival of what appears to be the grand finale of late March cold for late in the week (there are signs of some milder weather by the 30th or so). The potential next week snow remains 8-9 days away, enough time for expectations to evolve.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Good garden variety event shaping up for 19th/20th as March cold expected to continue

Saturday's weather system should bring an additional 1-4 inches (highest above the Mid-Station) but it will be a considerably warmer event. Temperatures may hover just above the freezing mark at the base and near 30 high on the hill. Incredibly, Saturday will actually be one of the warmer days of the next week or more. March of 2014 is setting up to be one of the coldest in Vermont going back 50 years. Readings are anywhere between 9 and 12 degrees below normal for the first 13 days of March and well below normal temperatures are expected for the remainder of the month. The deep snow cover across the central and northern part of the state will help accentuate the behavior. The region also has a chance to see a great month of snow. The Wednesday/Thursday epic storm helped and I fully expect more events in what appears to be a fruitful pattern. I was talking to Eric just the other day about our tendency to psychologically tune out winter by late March but often times the combination of a deep healthy base along with some great powder (and tolerable temperatures) occurs right during this period.

Saturday's light snow event is followed by more very unusual late-winter cold. High temperatures will only be in the teens both Sunday and Monday and below zero early Monday (frozen green beer weather !). A storm early in the week will travel well to the south of Vermont but another one will quickly follow on its heels and spread clouds and snow back into the region Wednesday. There has been some back and forth on the medium range models about where the snow/wintry mix line sets up Wednesday and Wednesday night, but from my vantage point, we have a good shot at a solid garden variety snow event with several inches by first tracks time Thursday the 20th. Generally below freezing temperatures follow this storm for Friday and into the weekend of the 22nd and 23rd.

In spite of very little support from some of our favorite teleconnection indices, the jet stream in the Pacific is expected to loosen during the last week of March. The core of some of the coldest air in the entire Northern Hemisphere is expected to settle into eastern Canada. If you are anxiously waiting for spring, you are likely going to have to continue to wait. If your looking for 10 more ski days and a few more powder days, you are in luck. We probably are going to see another significant snowstorm in this period along with 1-2 outbreaks of some serious relative cold.