With the New Year quickly approaching, let’s take stock of our current snow situation and see which areas are winning and losing across the US and Canada. Of course there are no losers when it comes to skiing (because any snow is better than no snow!), but I do want to look at the data and find areas that have been lucky to experience a lot of early-season snow.

When thinking about seasonal snowfall, many people instinctively ask, “Well, is it a La Nina or El Nino?” This phenomenon describes the water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America. A warmer-than-average ocean (El Nino) can change the storm track over North America to favor snow for the southern portions of the US. A colder-than-average ocean (La Nina) can change the storm track to favor the northern portions of the US. While tracking El Nino or La Nina doesn’t provide a perfect forecast of seasonal snowfall, it can help. Unfortunately, this winter is characterized by neither El Nino nor La Nina. Instead we’re in the grips of La Nada, a tongue-in-cheek way to describe average water temperatures. I said “unfortunately” regarding La Nada because it doesn’t help us understand the seasonal snowfall. This graphic shows the typical storm tracks during a La Nada winter, and if you’re thinking to yourself “I don’t see a pattern here”, well, you’re right. Storms could track any which way, so that’s no help when attempting to forecast snowfall over the season.

La Nada Storm Tracks

Typical storm tracks during La Nada winters. There’s no pattern here, so don’t try to find one. Credit: Mike Baker, Meteorologist, NWS Boulder

If we can’t forecast the season, let’s at least take a look at what’s happened over the last two months. November started off wonderfully in the Pacific Northwest, with well above average snow for Washington and British Columbia. The current snowpack in Washington is 125-150% of average, and some areas of British Columbia – like the Revelstoke area – are measuring a 100+ inch base.

This northern storm track has also been favorable to Idaho, Montana, and the Tetons of Wyoming, which are also reporting 125-150% of average snowfall. And a bonus during this weather pattern was that many storms came ashore in California before heading north to the areas I mentioned previous, so the Tahoe region of California has also enjoyed a wonderful early season with 100-150% of average snow.

Unfortunately, the central Rockies (Utah, Colorado, northern New Mexico) have not fared as well and went most of November without snow. However, the good news is that the storm track shifted in early December and now most areas across the west are seeing big-time powder days (for example, Monarch and Wolf Creek in Colorado each reported more than 50 inches during an eight-day stretch in mid December). These areas are still below average for the season, but they’re catching up fast.


Percent of average snowfall across the western US as of December 17, 2012.

On the east coast, variable is the word. Some days the weather has been favorable for snowmaking with natural snow also falling. Other times the weather warmed up and snowmaking stopped as some rain drops fell. Again, though, there is good news at present as it looks like more consistently cold weather is in store during the near future.

I recently sent out an email whose subject line read “Powder for everyone”, and this is what the weather looks like at present and at least for the next week or two. So no matter whether the early season was snowy or not-so-snowy, it now appears that winter has arrived for almost all areas of the country, and it’ll mean a great week of skiing and riding leading up to 2013. Get out and enjoy!

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