Mountain Woes and Forecast Snows

After last year’s tragic alpine season for the coastal regions of B.C., at the surface it appears we’re seeing a repeat performance with several atmospheric river events with high freezing levels already this year.

Contrasting these washout events,  numerous cool, dry outflow days failed to yield much in the way of snow, similar to last year. 

In fact, I'm starting to forget what a healthy snow pack looks like. To refresh your memory, compare the current state of the snowpack (left) with a healthy snowpack (2010, right) for December 2nd:

This somewhat atypical pattern failed to provide the Coastal and Vancouver Island Mountain ranges with ample snow. Finally, the stubborn ridging over the Pacific Ocean retrograded and the latter half of the season was salvageable, but barely. 

I want to run through this post a little bit differently, and start with some very long range forecasts for the duration of the month, which I will hope shed some light on the reliability of these forecasts and what we can take away from them.

CFS Climate Model: Sounds official, doesn't it? 

Those who are fans of epic, record-breaking cold would love a relatively recent run of the Climate Forecasting System.

Take a glance at Boxing Day: EPIC COLD POSSIBLE FOR YVR (Highly unlikely)

  • An incredible 492 dam 1000-500 mb thickness value for YVR and 486 for eastern portions of the Fraser Valley; very reminiscent of the December 1990 arctic outbreak.

  • To put this prognosis in perspective, our recent cold snap had thickness values of 515-520 dam, which brought widespread low temperatures to nearly -10°C for portions of the South Coast. Thicknesses in the 490's would have some coastal thermometers approaching -20°C

SUPER-OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER: Accuracy for forecasts after about about 10-12 days falls off and trends become harder to discern. Please keep this in mind when interpreting long range forecasts.

But you knew this, didn't you? Even the pros can wishcast a little.

But changes are coming. I assure you: Storm Parade, Part 2

Mt. Cain and Mount Washington have paid their dues  the bare slopes will be a thing of the past by the middle of the month!

The winter break will likely be filled with ample skiing, warm hot chocolate in the chalet, paired with packed terrain parks.

I'm almost confident enough to tell you to wax those skis; Maybe next week this will be the case. This could be the best early Christmas present these snow-starved ski hills could imagine.

But, how can we go from this (a resort often known for the deepest snow base on the planet):

To this:

One Word: Ullr

The god of snow and/or winter (or something along those lines, I'm not entirely sure) 

The past year has been especially rough for Vancouver Island, but the skiing and snowboarding communities on Vancouver Island have been incessantly praying to Ullr while a large portion of last year’s ski season was cancelled.

“Üllr was married to Skaði, who is the goddess of of skiing, winter, mountains, and bowhunting. Most references to the two of them come from Sweden. They bowhunted on skis, one wrapped with cord for traction. Üllr is the god of skiing, among other things" If you'd like a little more detail there's more information found here.


A juicy, deep, moisture laden trough is scheduled to develop in the Gulf of Alaska with the brunt of the moisture aimed directly at B.C.  this isn't hearsay. 

In fact, it's backed by lots of model support...

Frame this map that's above, as a sustained troughing pattern is in store for the coast. If you’re a fan of active weather the next several weeks will feature isolated stronger storms with, heavy rains and copious amounts of mountain snows especially above 1500 metres in elevation.

Sound fun?

 I've shaded in areas where mixing is possible especially below 2000 metres for a few periods next week. It likely won't be sustained periods, but these spikes may inhibit accumulation and Tuesday-Wednesday is a little disconcerting as of now. ++ uncertainty

I've shaded in areas where mixing is possible especially below 2000 metres for a few periods next week. It likely won't be sustained periods, but these spikes may inhibit accumulation and Tuesday-Wednesday is a little disconcerting as of now. ++ uncertainty

Did-you-know?  the freezing level doesn't mean snow level, and often accumulating snow can be found several hundred metres below the freezing level.

Snow lovers: Cut out the photo below and place it under your pillow. Anything will help at this point.

We need this pattern to verify, but luckily other ensembles and deterministic models are hinting at this type of pattern developing in the 6-10 day period. This active pattern will promote abnormally high amounts of precipitation and massive amounts of snow for higher elevations as the jet stream takes aim at British Columbia. 

GFS ensembles:

Q: But, does this 500 mb pattern translates to heavy amounts of precipitation at the surface?

A: Absolutely. See for yourself:

The Canadian ensemble members are predicting a roller coaster of a ride for atmospheric pressure during the next week. Of note, notice how the members begin to diverge after this weekend, indicating uncertainty in the forecast.

There's still some fairly significant 850 mb (1500 metre) temperature discrepancies for next week (nothing like Eastern Canada, though!), which will make all the difference between high elevations snow and cold, mountain rain.

A lot of this is riding on where the atmospheric river sets up...

Stay tuned and think snow. 

C'mon Ullr!