The Snowpack That Wasn't Meant to be

To: Skiers, Boarders, Tobogganers, Lifties, Mountain Management, and Resort Owners

Graph courtesy of islandweather.ca. Don't be quick to blame global warming for this lack of snowpack, temperatures have been below normal in the alpine. 

Graph courtesy of islandweather.ca. Don't be quick to blame global warming for this lack of snowpack, temperatures have been below normal in the alpine. 

After several above average snow seasons in the alpine, we're finally seeing a significant, below average year. I know I often forget, but that's how averages work. 50 percent of the time, snowfall will be 'below normal.'

"Climate is what you expect, but weather is what you get."

Recently, in the 2010-2011 winter season, Mt. Washington on Vancouver Island was blessed with nearly 20 metres of snowfall, nearly doubling their 25 year snowfall average! This season, many mountains should prepare for a similar year, a couple standard deviations in the opposite direction, so I expect Mt. Washington will see between 4-6 metres of snowfall this year. But it certainly doesn't mean we were "due" for a bad season.

The seasons don't have a memory of snowfalls from the past, so since we've had 2 or 3 great ski years in a row, it doesn't influence our chances this year. And in fact,with neutral conditions in the ENSO index, I would have predicted a near normal snowpack this year. 

Unfortunately from an economic standpoint, our local economies that rely on copious amounts of local, national, and international tourism will flat-line, because what ultimatelty impacts their bottom line is snow conditions and snow depth. I know I might be sounding a little harsh, but it's the simple truth.

Down the road in 2014 if we don't see significant improvement in January and February and drought conditions persist they'll be extreme repercussions for BC Hydro, Fisheries and Oceans, and our drinking water sources come next summer.

But, that's a significantly long time down the road, and the simple fact is long range weather models aren't very good yet and have much less skill than our deterministic high resolution medium-range models.       

At this point, yeah I've told you the snowpack is pretty pitiful, but several quantitative graphs and figures might persuade you it's worse than you originally thought. The River Forecast Centre has a comprehensive website including automated snow pillow station data:

"ASP stations relay data from remote sites via GOES satellite every one to three hours. Snow Water Equivalent data are extracted for each site and plotted with comparisons to previous years' data. The near-real-time data are transmitted without verification from remote sites and posted without checking and are therefore liable to major errors and equipment failures. Data available include hourly temperatures, cumulative precipitation, snow depth and snow water equivalent."

1. Wolf Creek (central Vancouver Island)

  • Near record low snowpack
Dark navy blue line represents current snow pack, compared with record low (red line) 

Dark navy blue line represents current snow pack, compared with record low (red line) 

2. Jump Creek (southern Vancouver Island)

  • Record low snowpack 
Navy blue line represents current snowpack, compared with record low (red line)

Navy blue line represents current snowpack, compared with record low (red line)

3. Disappointment Lake (Living up to the name!): Lower Fraser Basin 

  • Near record lows
Navy blue line represents current snowpack, flirting dangerously close to record low levels (red line)

Navy blue line represents current snowpack, flirting dangerously close to record low levels (red line)

When will this tenacious and stubborn ridging in the Pacific Ocean give way to our more typical zonal flow with low pressure system after low pressure system that coats are ski hills in beautiful champagne powder? 

Here's one model's take on precipitation for the following week, deflecting most of it into central and northern BC, while leaving southern BC relatively unscathed, yet again. The oranges and lighter shades of red represent approximately 40-50 mm of rain, for the week. In normal seasons with ample storm systems, a typical evening will bring in excess of 50 mm into the local mountains for reference.  

gfs_total_precip_west_29.png

Some of the ensemble models and operational deterministic models are beginning to hint at another significant cool-down by early January for the South Coast. By no means is it a certainty or a lock, but it looks like we'll be on the back side of another giant blocking pattern over the pacific, which will allow cold air advection into #YVR and area.

If you're looking for an accurate source for mountain snowfall accumulations, I've found one of the most accurate sources to be at Shred FX, so head on over and check out if your local mountain will be winning the snow lottery this week and who will score some elusive champagne powder

Next post I'll talk about this pattern change and if it'll be a more snowy pattern than what has been seen during our past couple of cold snaps. At first glance, expect some more snow in January 2014 Vancouver!

#50shadesofVan