Predicting the weather is a fool’s errand. Where else can you be considered great at your job when you get everything wrong 50% of the time? Major league batter, maybe, but not much else. Nonetheless, we are all dying to know: What’s the forecast? Where is it gonna snow this season? And how much?!
The 2010-11 winter season saw record snowfalls at over 90 locations across the Western United States “from Montana to New Mexico and California to Colorado.” Can we expect more of the same this year? A survey of various meteorological sites shows that this winter probably won’t set any records like last year but we will still see a lot of snow across North America, and if it is half as good as last year, which we expect, it is gonna be a GREAT season! We’ve already seen a good amount of snow in Colorado, which has led to resorts such as Winter Park opening early.
The experts at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) released their official winter forecast on October 20, 2011 which says that the weather patterns will be similar to last year but less wet and snowy. So don’t expect many record snowfalls. Monitors are currently seeing colder than average waters around the equator in the Pacific and that usually means a wetter than average winter in the Western United States, a.k.a. La Niña. But the pattern is not appearing as early or as well-defined as last year, which was a big La Niña year. So this year we are expecting a weaker version of the same phenomena.
For example, last year the entire state of Utah saw a very wet and snowy winter, but this year, with a weaker La Niñaforecasters expect it to be wet in the north of the state but drier in southern Utah.
One big contributing factor to specific storms is the Arctic Oscillation. When the Oscillation is in its negative phase it can push cold air from Canada into the U.S. and amplify the wet effects of La Niña for weeks at a time before flipping back to positive. One memorable example of a heavy negative Arctic Oscillation was the Snowmageddon storm of February 2010 that caused blizzards across the Mid-Atlantic states. But these oscillations are very difficult to predict: they happen when they happen.
Another major variable, believe it or not, is the air over Greenland. Last year there was a persistent blocking pattern over Greenland that kept storms in the Mid West and North East stuck in place dumping snow for extended periods. This year that blocking pattern is expected to weaken, allowing storms to race up the East Coast and not get stuck for so long. But even with the roadblock in Greenland removed, AccuWeather still sees heavier than normal snow coming to the Mid West, Mid-Atlantic, North East, Colorado & Montana.
Weather gets a lot more predictable a few days in advance so be sure to bookmark a few weather sites that specialize in ski reports and then check them hourly all winter. Some of our favorites include: Sno Country, OpenSnow (for Colorado skiers and riders) On the Snow, Open Snow, SnowForecast and The Weather Channel.
But never forget: predicting the weather is the definition of hit or miss. Take the Lake Tahoe, forecast as the prime example. Forecasters give Northern California a 50% chance of being wetter than normal and a 50% chance of being drier than normal this winter. I could have guessed that myself. I guess your best bet is to cross your fingers and be ready to go as soon as you see the clouds getting dark in the mountains near you…