Saturday, December 17, 2011

Finding Snow

Data collected by NRCS SNOTEL stations can be incredibly valuable for planning ski adventures.  I like to access it either via the NRCS web site or the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and Pacific Northwest River Forecast Center web sites.

Regular readers of this blog already know that this has been a down snow year thusfar for much of the western United States.  That is readily apparent when looking at the percent of average snowpack snow water equivalent at SNOTEL stations this morning.

Source: NRCS
The snow situation is below average across much of the west and is incredibly grim in the Sierra Nevada.  The few regions with several stations at 125% or more above average include the Mogollon Rim of Arizona and adjoining mountains, Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, and central Cascades of Washington.

Percent of average has it's advantages, but can be deceptive.  For instance, the Promontory SNOTEL is one of the snowier sites on the Mogollon Rim.  It presently has 6.6" of SWE compared to an average of 2.9.

That is not substantially different than Snowbird, which sits at 6.4" of SWE, but that equates to a much lower percent of average (63%) because it snows so much at Snowbird on average.

So where is the southwest snowpack deepest?  A quick look suggests Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains, which sits at 13" of SWE.

Wolf Creek Pass is one of the snowier locations in the San Juans, so don't assume that deep snowpack applies throughout the range.  SNOTEL locations further to the west, including those in the mountains around Silverton and Durango, have much less SWE.  For example, Lizard Head Pass sits at only 4.8".

Thus, the Wolf Creek Pass area appears to be the southwest sweet spot right now.

1 comment:

  1. Even though the numbers involved are small, I think it's interesting that Mogollon Rim snowfall is up and Sierra Nevada snowfall is down. My intuition would've told me that systems typically dive along the California coast before arriving in Arizona, and that this would lead to somewhat similar patterns in both regions. Obviously, my intuition needs refinement.