This weather discussion and season outlook is provided by Evan Thayer of OpenSnow.
Typically during this time of year in Utah, the mountains are already blanketed in white, skis and snowboards are being waxed, and snow enthusiasts are prepping for opening weekend. However, for the second consecutive year, Utah skiers and boarders are looking up at mountains in mid-November that are largely devoid of snow. Inevitably, panic starts to set in. “Is this a harbinger of things to come?,” we ask ourselves. Last year, I explored this topic to determine if a quiet autumn had any correlation to the winter as a whole. The statistics largely pointed to the fact that dry weather early in the season often had little effect on the overall seasonal snowfall. For the upcoming 2017-18 winter season, we only have to look as far back as last winter to find proof that in Utah, things can turn around quickly.
As we mentioned, last year we were bone dry through the first half of November. In fact, we literally had zero snow on the ground at the Snowbird snotel site up until November 18th. The month of November, when compared to its successor months of December, January, February and March, is not statistically very snowy. While we may typically have snow on the ground by now, it’s usually relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. On November 30th, Snowbird’s snotel site typically has 5.6” of Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) on the ground. Later in this season, this site has an average peak snowpack of 42.8” of SWE. That means that only about 13% of the peak snowpack is present at the end of November. In other words, only a couple good snowstorms can erase that deficit completely.
Let’s look at last year in a graphical format (graph courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service):
As you can see, despite our slow start during the first half of November, we saw good storms for the end of November that brought us quickly back up to normal. Then, a good December had us above average as we turned the calendar to 2017. Finally, this culminated with an epic January that featured record snowfall. This ensured a great season and we ended up with 40% more snowfall than average.
Lesson learned – a slow start to the season does not mean we are doomed. In fact, if recent history is any indicator, we will have plenty of powder days ahead this season. As luck would have it, we have a storm pushing into Utah this week with snow likely in all Utah mountains Thursday night into Friday. Hopefully, like last year, this will be the beginning of an epic ski season.