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Low pressure will spin slowly through the west today bringing cooler temps and a chance for showers to the area starting today (Monday) through Wednesday. Snow showers will be possible at times above 8,000 feet, but accumulation should be minimal. A bit of a break later this week before chance for showers returns over the weekend.
El Niño is on the rise right now in the Pacific. Latest readings show us continuing to head toward an official El Niño event. Latest ONI shows us just passing the El Niño threshold of 0.5C above normal SST in the Niño 3.4 region. Despite crossing this threshold, we are not in an official El Niño until we have 3 consecutive months of +0.5C SSTs in this region. So while we are not there yet, we are well on our way as temps continue to warm relative to normal. Below is a graph from the CPC that shows our chances through the rest of the year of El Niño/Neutral/La Niña:
As you can see, El Niño becomes increasingly likely through this summer. By the time late Fall and early Winter come around, our chances are nearly 80% of being in an El Niño event.
The big question is "Will this be a strong event?" It is my belief, based on historical records, that weak El Niños don't favor northern Utah much. However, strong El Niños do increase our chances of having above average years. Looking at the model forecasts, we can see the following:
The dotted line is the model average, which shows our ONI value increasing to +1.0 or so by Fall. This is a weak to moderate El Niño event. The strong El Niño events of the past (83-84 and 97-98) saw ONI values in excess of +2.0. Right now, according to the models at least, it looks doubtful that our El Nino will be overly strong.
How about summer? Typically El Niño summers are slightly wetter than normal with a strong monsoonal tap which starts earlier in the summer. The latest 3-month outlook from the CPC reflects this with greater than average precipitation forecasted for the 4-corners region.
So for now we'll just have to wait and see how strong El Niño gets this summer. Again, I'd say the stronger the better for us in Utah as we've typically done well in strong El Niño events in the past.
Evan | OpenSnow
Saturday PM, May 3:
A trough will slowly work its way into the West over the next few days. Valley rain and high mountain snow showers will develop by Tuesday and last off and on through the end of the work week. Snow levels will be high (around 8K feet) for most of the event and accumulations should remain low (a few inches).
Season Wrap Up:
Well, the season is pretty much over. While the lifts may still be turning at Snowbird for a few more weeks, and some people are still enjoying some Spring touring, the heart of winter has come to a close. May usually brings the first hot weather of the season with temperatures reaching well into the 80s by the end of the month. However, May is also notorious for the occasional snow storm. While I may be calling this a “Season Wrap Up” post, please don’t think that snow is over. It’s likely not, especially in the high Wasatch. I remember having a 10″ powder day on May 18th last year.
So what did our season look like… Well, that depends on where you call home. Down in Southern Utah. The season was bad. Things started out ok and we were near average into the early part of December before things flatlined. Hardly any good storms came through until the second half of February, and even then, they were less than stellar. Here is a good graphical view of the season from Midway Valley, not too far from Cedar City and Brian Head:
In the end, Midway Valley only finished with about half of its annual average.
Farther north things we a bit better at Snowbird. Around opening day in mid-November, the Bird was around average and having a decent start to the season. A two week dry spell to end November saw the area fall behind average a bit. A mediocre December and an awful January did little to help the situation and LCC continued to fall farther behind average. Luckily, February was above average as the Northern half of Utah saw the effects of two atmospheric river events. This laid a thick layer of heavy, wet snow on the area and saw our SWE numbers improve. March was near average but a warm and relatively dry April saw LCC’s chances of getting close to average come to an end. Again, it was a dry December and awful January that doomed Snowbird and Alta to a third consecutive below average season.
On the other side of the ridge, things were a bit better for Brighton. The type of storms that generally favor LCC were less common this season. Instead, the atmospheric river in February and several storms with prominent SW components helped BCC to a decent season compared to their neighbors to the south. Similar to LCC, BCC had a bad December and January but made up significant ground in February. Consistent snow fell through most of March and in the end, Brighton’s numbers fell just short of average. Like Snowbird, Brighton was doomed to play catch up after Dec/Jan. Park City’s numbers, relative to average, we quite similar to Brighton’s and they too came up just short of average.
Another jaunt north to the mountains surrounding Ogden Valley. This particular graph below shows the data for Ben Lomond Peak. The recurring theme of a poor Dec/Jan but an excellent February is evident. Another good storm cycle at the end of March made it possible for Ben Lomond station to peak out right at average.
The final snotel station we’ll look at has the most positive numbers. Tony Grove Lake saw the best benefits of anybody from the February atmospheric river events. A phenomenal month that saw them average nearly 1″ of liquid every day! Their numbers jumped from 60% of normal at the beginning of the month to 130% by the end of the month. While things slowed after that, TGL was still able to finish the season with about 13″ more water than average. That’s about 30% above normal. Not bad at all.
To sum up, the season was noticeably better as you got farther north. The entire state saw an okay start to things but had a poor December and January. The north was able to make up ground in February, but southern Utah saw very little from these systems and continued to fall farther behind.
While the numbers in Northern Utah overall come in around average, many will argue that this is deceiving — and I have to agree with them. The storms in February, while high in water content, made for poor skiing by Utah standards. So our best month statistically, was not the type of epic snow for which we are famous. Also, these storms that dropped about 1/3 of our yearly precipitation in northern Utah, were very warm with high snow levels. You may remember that snow levels rose above 8,000 feet for much of the events in February. That meant that lower elevations saw mostly rain. While most of the snotel data above is from high elevation gauges, if you were to consult lower elevation sensors, you’d find the season to look markedly worse. It’s my opinion that from a hydrological standpoint, the season wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad either. However, from a skier’s standpoint, I preferred both of the last two seasons to this one.
So what happens to this blog in the summer? Well, I will continue to post periodically in the summer, but less about short term weather and more about potential developments meteorologically that could impact us next winter. Last summer I was posting every Sunday and that seemed to work well, so I’d expect something similar this year.
The question I’ve received a dozen times already this Spring is what are my feelings on the potential for an El Nino event for next winter. For those of you who don’t know, an El Nino Watch has been posted by the Climate Prediction Center. Nothing shapes our winters quite like ENSO (El Nino/La Nina). It’s been a number of years since our last strong El Nino and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. While it has only been picked up by the media in the last month or so, the CPC discussions have been talking about the signs developing since well before Christmas. With that being said, an El Nino Watch means that there is a better than average chance of El Nino developing — not that one is imminent. Right now, I’d say there is a 50% chance of El Nino, 30% chance of ENSO neutral, and 20% chance of La Nina for next winter. So by no means a guarantee. Even if El Nino were to occur, there is also no guarantee that it would be a strong event. So, if you’re starting to catch my drift, I basically think it’s foolish to put too much stock in ENSO right now with 5+ months before it starts snowing again.
There is also a tendency to hear El Nino and La Nina and think they must mean good things for Utah snow. Not necessarily the case. El Nino events usually feature a strong southern jet that brings above average rain and snow to Southern California and the Southwest. Usually that means good things for Southern Utah, but Northern Utah is on the fringes and often sees only average precip during El Nino years. The notoriously strong El Nino years in history have been good to us, but we have a long way to go before we know if this will be a strong event, if it develops at all.
As always, we will monitor the situation throughout the summer and keep you informed. Thanks for a truly awesome season — even if it wasn’t our best snowfall-wise! Always a privilege to be trusted with your forecasting needs.
Evan | OpenSnow
Next storm moving in on Friday evening and lasting through Saturday. Looking at the model data, the system looks fairly good to my eyes. Spring storms have a tendency to come in a little weaker than models project in the long and medium range, so we'll have to watch this closely again tomorrow to make sure it's not showing signs of splitting, etc. However, as it stands right now we could certainly see 6-12" in the Upper Cottonwoods if everything comes together just right. If I'm not mistaken, Alta and Snowbird are the only ski resorts still operating this weekend but touring should still be decent above 9K feet.
In other news, I'm still in India battling temps of 40C or higher (105F)... Wishing I was home to snag some late season turns. Get a faceshot or two in my honor this weekend!
Evan | OpenSnow
Spring-like weather with only small chances for showers will continue through the weekend. Potential for a stronger system for the middle of next week.
Updates as of late have been short and sweet -- partly because the Spring brings a lack of interest and readership drops dramatically even during stormy periods, also because our Wx over the last 10 days hasn't been overly exciting with only small systems here and there.
This type of pattern will continue into early next week. A cold front moved through yesterday evening and cooled us off a bit. A trailing disturbance will provide a small chance for a few afternoon showers in the mountains today.
Another disturbance will move through late Friday through Saturday. Again, only light accumulations expected over the highest elevations.
Dry to start next week but a change is in store. Models continue to hint at a stronger system for the middle of next week. GFS has been the strongest consistently with this feature. EC finally moved toward the GFS a bit this morning, but is still much weaker. My guess is we will end up splitting the difference, which means a decent storm is certainly a possibility. This could end up being one of the last opportunities for powder, so we'll keep an eye on it.
Evan | OpenSnow
P.S. I'm off to the other side of the world on business tomorrow. I should have all the available resources to continue making forecasts, however the times at which posts go up will likely be a bit off. fyi
Weak system passed through the area over the weekend. Most of the moisture was north and east of the area, but we still saw scattered precip. A thunderstorm rolled through the SLC area early Sunday morning and dropped 1-3" of snow in the Cottonwoods. Then more showers Sunday afternoon added another couple inches in spots. Weekend totals were generally less than 3" with the exception of LCC which saw close to 6" since Saturday.
This week we will continue to be mostly dry, however weak disturbances will pass to our north and give us a chance for light showers from time to time. It looks like one of these disturbances will move through on Wednesday with another one for the upcoming weekend. Again, don't expect much more than a couple inches up high with these. But it's something....
High pressure will begin next week. Models hinting at the possibility for a stronger system later next week, however with poor model consistency, I'm not too confident as of yet. Something to watch . . .
Evan | OpenSnow