Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Great Spring Snowpack

If you are ever going to do that big spring ski adventure you've been dreaming of, this is the year to do it.  An above average snow year combined with a cold spring has produced a remarkable June snowpack across the northern 2/3 of the western United States.  Just check out the basin-average snow water content map from the NRCS and Western Region Climate Center.  Nearly every basin in the northern 2/3 of the western United States is above 200% of average snowpack for 31 May.

Source: NRCS/Western Regional Climate Center
I've non-scientifically cherry picked the snowpack snow-water equivalent graphs from several SNOTEL stations for your drooling pleasure.  Let's start in Colorado where the snowpack in the northern half of the state is incredible.  One of the snowier instrumented locations in the Colorado Rockies is the Tower SNOTEL, located at 10,500 feet in the Park Range east of Steamboat Springs.  Snowpack SWE here reached it's highest level on record (beginning in 1980) and presently sits at 185% of average.

At Willow Park, which lies at 10,700 feet just east of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, the snowpack SWE sits at 37.9", 547% of average.  This remarkable departure from average represents the integrated effect of a big snow year (the highest in the record, which goes back to 1981), with a cold spring.  The SNOTEL data suggests this is probably the biggest spring snowpack in the northern Colorado Rockies in at least 30 years.

In the Wasatch Range, the Snowbird SNOTEL suggests this is a damn good year, but not quite as far out there climatologically as Colorado.  We've been hanging in there at about 75" of SWE for the past month and are presently at 414% of average, but 2005 was also a big year, although not as consistently good for skiing as this year.  Records for Snowbird only go back to 1990, so keep in mind this is a short record.  

In the northern Wasatch, the Ben Lomond snowpack SWE is well above average (357%), but the peak SWE this year did not quite reach that attained in 1984 and we're a presently a bit below the SWE of 1983.
Heading west, one of my favorite SNOTELs is the Squaw Valley Golf Course.  Am I the only one who thinks that building a golf course in an area of heavy mountain snows is insane?  What comedy.  In any event, they won't be teeing it up in Squaw Valley for some time.  They reached their peak snowpack SWE (almost 75") in early May, but remain well above the average.
Source: NRCS
Finally, we turn to the Pacific Northwest.  Here, we're not looking at the biggest snow year in recent memory (recall that Mount Baker had 1140" of snow in 1998-99), but the snowpack SWE still reached well above average and is sitting at some sites very close to record levels for so late in the year.  For example, check out the Paradise SNOTEL on Mount Rainier (5120 feet).

This is a spring snowpack for the ages.  Let the corn harvest and runoff commence. 

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