Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial Day Forecast

I was going to issue a Memorial Day Forecast this morning, but then I noticed none of the products on have updated since yesterday.  Good think this isn't ski season!

Thus, I'll just pass along the NWS graphic, which oddly is missing the NOAA/NWS logo.

Source: NWS
Other than some showers and thunderstorms today, and perhaps an isolated shower or thunderstorm in eastern Utah tomorrow, the weekend is looking quite pleasant.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

President's Budget a Disaster for Science and Education

Paraphrasing Mark Twain, money is for spending and budgets are for fighting over.

Most Americans would probably agree that federal spending needs to be reduced.  However, the President's Budget released yesterday takes a draconian axe to many science and education programs that are critical investments for the Nation.  The Scientific American summarizes the some of the cuts affecting science and education here.  I will discuss specifically cuts proposed to science agencies and programs that I believe will greatly slow progress in weather and climate prediction.

My science career now spans nearly 30 years and for that entire time I have received support from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  I consider NSF to be the gold standard of science funding agencies.  They support research projects initiated by scientists and are probably the most "organic" funding agency for science and engineering research.

The Trump Budget reduces NSF funding from $7.5 billion to $6.7 billion, which would fund 800 fewer research proposals.  The largest cuts would be in Social and Behavioral Sciences (10.4%), Computer Sciences (10.3%), and Geosciences (10.1%).  The research in those areas is very broad in scope and impact, but amongst the benefits are advances that ultimately improve the protection of life and property from natural hazards from winter storms to tsunamis.

In the NASA budget, five Earth-observing missions are eliminated, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3), DSCOVR (space weather monitoring), CLARREO Pathfinder (critical for evaluating climate models and feedbacks), PACE, (ocean, cloud, and aerosol monitoring), and the Radiation Budget Instrument (measures reflected sunlight).  These missions will help improve understanding and modeling of the Earth's radiation budget.  The NASA Office of Education is also eliminated.

Perhaps the most nonsensical cut is a reduction of $5 million to delay the development of the Next Generation Global Prediction System (NGGPS) and other related weather prediction projects.

These weather prediction projects have bipartisan support in Congress because they are a good investment for national security and resiliency to high-impact weather.  The NGGPS involves the development of a new global weather prediction system designed to accelerate forecasts of critical weather in the United States.  Such a system would also greatly benefit the private sector, which relies heavily on computer models for all sorts of applications in the transportation, energy, agricultural, and other economic sectors.

In summary, the President's budget is a disaster for science and education, the Nation's intellectual capital, and technological innovation.  It is a pathway back to the dark ages, not the future.

Disclosure: The author currently receives research funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Office of Naval Research.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Uinta Snowpack Is Still Quite Fat

With Memorial Day weekend approaching, I've been thinking of heading to higher country for some turns.

The Uinta snowpack remains quite fat.  The numbers from the Trial Lake Snotel, very near the Mirror Lake Highway, show an early May peak in snowpack snow water equivalent just under 50 inches, roughly double the median peak.  Despite some losses in the middle of the month, they currently sit over 30 inches, again roughly double median.

Source: CBRFC
The question is, will the Mirror Lake Highway be open?  According to an article published in the Deseret News over the weekend, UDOT is giving it a 50/50 chance.

If the road does open, you're going to find an impressive snowpack by Uinta standards.  If not too snirty, there's going to be a good corn harvest up there over the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: Mountain Collective Pass

Living at the base of the Wasatch Range, I don't travel very much for skiing.  Skiing is costly, and my academic calendar means the only time I can get a full week off is either prior to Christmas when the snowpack is meager, during the holidays when everything is expensive or crowded, or during spring break, which can sometimes be quite warm.

This past season, however, I got the big crow bar out and cracked open the wallet to purchase Mountain Collective passes for my son and I.  Given my advanced age, I also bought the optional insurance, raising the price to $449 each.  After a season of skiing (with some potential we will still travel to a couple more resorts), here are my perspectives.


I have no prior experience with multi-resort passes.  I suppose I could have sprung for an Epic Pass or a M.A.X. Pass, but the mountain collective includes many iconic resorts, several of which have great snow and terrain.

For someone based in Salt Lake, there were 5 resorts last season within a 7 hour drive including Alta/Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Telluride, and the Aspen/Snowmass.  We skied them all, totaling 10 days, for an average cost of $45/day.  For the 2016/17 season, we only got two days total at Alta/Snowbird, but it my understanding that in 2017/18, there will be 2 days at each resort.  In addition, Snowbasin has joined in for a total of 6 days at Salt Lake area resorts.  Plus you can add a third day at a mountain of your choice.  That makes the Mountain Collective even more attractive for a Salt Lake skier.

If you already have a pass a Mountain Collective Resort, you can get unlimited 50% off day tickets at other Mountain Collective Resorts, but keep in mind those half-price tickets can be costly given the exorbitant prices many resorts charge for a day pass.  Perhaps someone can comment if there is a discount on the Mountain Collective Pass if you have a pass at one of the resorts.

As far as the skiing goes, you can't go wrong with Alta/Snowbird and Jackson Hole and we had a great time at each.  Sun Valley doesn't typically get a lot of snow, but it did this year.  It's not a great mountain if you are looking for hard-core terrain, but a weekend of cruising its long fall lines was fun.  Telluride does have some hard-core hike-to terrain, but it was scoured to nothing by the time we went there for spring break.  As such, a day of cruising there was enough, but we skied two anyway.  We enjoyed skiing Aspen Mountain for a day while also catching the Men's and Women's Super-G.  The next day we skied Highlands and Snowmass, racking up huge vertical.  I had never skied any of the Aspen area resorts, so that was fun, but I don't consider a return to be essential.  Our general perspective is that even in a good year, it doesn't snow enough in Colorado.  The phrase, "where's the snow" was uttered frequently.

Given that I was going to Japan for work, I also got 2 free days in the Hakuba Valley.  That worked out well for our multi-day stay since we only wanted to ride lifts a couple of days and wanted to ski tour and sightsee the rest of thetime.

We haven't skied Squaw Valley or Mammoth yet, but continue to keep that as an option as summer approaches.  There's also Taos, Revelstoke, and Lake Louise, but the distance involved was too far for us this year.


The cost per day for skiing if you can get a couple of days of skiing at at least four destinations is quite reasonable, but unless you are a true dirt bag, you're going to need to pay for lodging.  There are discounts through the Mountain Collective, but the options are still costly.  Although we had a cheap option in Jackson, we stayed in Hailey for Sun Valley, Ridgeway for Telluride (1 hour each way), and Carbondale for Aspen to keep costs down.

At each resort, you have to go to their season pass office and get a new pass.  We get to the resorts early enough not to have to wait in line, but it is a pain to have to do this everywhere.   In Hakuba, I had to get my passes at the bus station, but fortunately knew that was the case before showing up at the ticket office.

You get 2 days for the destination, not each resort.  For example, in Aspen, you get 2 days total at all four of their mountains (including Buttermilk), not 2 days at each mountain.  That being said, two days skiing Aspen/Snowmass was enough for me...

Bottom Line

I found the Mountain Collective to be a great option for us this year.  I think having 2 days each at Alta, Snowbird, and Snowbasin will make it even more so next year, especially with Jackson Hole within easy striking distance.  Remember that a third day can be added at one of these resorts.

The pass is especially attractive if you want to also do a road trip to California, Colorado, or Canada and ski at a couple of their resorts.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Still Skiing

I've had an unused day of skiing at AltaBird thanks to my Mountain Collective Pass and decided I'd use it today.  With a fresh coat of the white stuff, the mountains were quite stunning this morning.

Conditions were quite good for May 20th.  Carveable up high, some refrozen spring snow down low.  Stuff softening up depending on aspect as the day went along.

Given that I hadn't ridden lifts in a month, we racked up vertical on the groomers and called it good at noon.  I like the 8 am open.  That's really nice this time of year for early risers like myself.

Unfortunately, the snow under the fresh coat looks pretty dirty.  In a couple of days, we'll be skiing snirt instead of snow.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Record Cold Temperatures Aloft

Official temperature records are kept for the surface, but let's give some love today to the atmosphere aloft.

The cold upper-level trough that moving through our area is a record setter.  Soundings collected 0000 UTC (1800 MDT) yesterday afternoon and 1200 UTC (0600 MDT) this morning broke records for the coldest temperature observed at that date and time at 700 mb (about 10,000 ft/3,000 m) and 500 mb (about 18,000 ft/5,500 m).
700 mb
00z 18 May 2017: -9.1˚C
Prior Record: -9.0˚C

12z 18 May 2017: -9.5˚C
Prior Record: -9.2˚C

500 mb
00z 18 May: -28.7˚C
Prior Record: -27.8˚C

12z 18 May: -27.7ÂșC
Prior Record: -25.1˚C
Prior records are based on soundings collected at Ogden and Salt Lake City from 1948-2014, although there are gaps in which no data is available.  Thus, these upper-air records are perhaps not as impressive as a record at the surface where there is a much longer history available.  Still, it provides some illustration that this is an unusually cold airmass for mid May in northern Utah.

So, is global warming over?  Sorry, but no.  We can see that our extreme cold is regional in nature using the great Climate Reanalyzer site from the University of Maine.  The plot below is the departure of today's daily mean GFS forecast surface temperature from the 1979–2000 average.  The interior western US is a local cold spot, as is parts of interior Asia.  There is also extreme warmth in other areas, especially the northeast United States.  For the globe as a whole, the average surface temperature is 0.45˚C above the 1979–2000 average.

Source: Climate Reanalyzer
Thus, our cold weather is a nice illustration of how one region can still get unusually cold even as the planet warms.