Friday, January 6, 2012

Is There Any Hope?

During yesterday's discussion on KCPW about our recent weather, I commented that things can turn around quickly in the Wasatch.  Alta has recorded months with more than 200 inches of snow and weeks with more than 100 inches.  This got me wondering if we have ever rebounded back to an average peak snowpack after such a crappy start to the season.

The answer is yes.  The current snowpack snow water equivalent (SWE) at Snowbird is 7.9".  Similar snowpack SWEs were observed at Snowbird on this date in 1994 (7.9") and 1999 (7.7").  There have been some changes at the site that introduce some uncertainties to this comparison, but for the sake of this discussion, we'll treat these observations as "truth."

In 1994, the snowpack SWE increased during the rest of the winter to about 32", but peaked well short of average.  In 1999, however, Mother Nature continued to provide the goods well into May and the snowpack SWE peaked above average at just over 50".  It looks like there must have been a fairly healthy spring runoff that year.

Snowbird SNOTEL snowpack SWE.  Legend at lower left.
So, there is hope.  Where we end up, however, is simply not something we can reliably predict.  We are at the mercy of Mother Nature.  She could turn on the juice sometime in the next couple of months, or continue to torture us.

BTW, if you are looking for snow, Niseko, Japan reports a 1.5 m snow depth at the base, 3.0 m at the summit, and 60 cm new snow.  Anyone wishing to sponsor me for a trip should call me immediately.

Update 8:40 AM:

Oh yeah, there's also the Chugach.  Biggest December on record in Valdez according to the NWS.

Source: NOAA/NWS


  1. Yes, it has happened before (i.e. snowpack has recovered). But the odds are against it, and getting less likely every day. I looked at Spokane precip. If our Oct1-Jan15 precip is only 3.50", that would be the 5th driest Oct-Jan15 ever. If I look at the 10 driest Oct-Jan15 winters, and see how they panned out, the message is not good. 7 of the 10 wound up with only 50-74% of normal precip by the end of June. The other 3 were near normal, but saved in part by a wet June. The magnitude and widespread nature of this year's dry spell also gives weight to a continued dry winter.

  2. Good point. My "reliably predict" could have better stated that the dice are loaded against getting back to normal, in part because a big chunk of the snow accumulation season is behind us, but that it was still possible to recover. Better put, we can't reliably predict whether or not we will be near, above, or below the climatology for the rest of the winter.