Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Oquirrh/Stansbury Snow Climatology

Sharp Peak in Utah's Oquirrh Mountains
A few readers have contacted me asking about the snow climate in the Oquirrh and Stansbury Mountains west of Salt Lake City.  The Oquirrh Mountains flank the western Salt Lake Valley, reaching elevations of up to 10,620 feet, while the Stansbury Mountains are the next range to the west and reach 11,031 feet at the summit of Deseret Peak.

To my knowledge, there are no long-term, publicly available snowfall records from the upper elevations of either mountain range.  It is possible that Rio Tinto/Kennecott has such records as they have explored ski area development on their land in the Oquirrhs at various times over the past few decades, most recently a few years ago (e.g., here, here).  Others have proposed resorts in the Oquirrhs as well (e.g., here).  

SNOTEL observations from the Rocky Basin site at 8900 feet in the central Oquirrhs show that average snowpack SWE reaches a maximum of about 25 inches in early-mid April (blue line).

That's about 40% lower than the 42" average at the Snowbird SNOTEL (which is a bit higher at 9640 ft), but comparable to the 25" average at the Thaynes Canyon SNOTEL at 9200 feet at Park City Mountain Resort.  The only SNOTEL in the Stansbury Mountains, Mining Fork, has an average maximum of only 19", but is located at 8000 feet.  These observations suggest that the snowfall in the Oquirrh and Stansbury Mountains is lower than found in the Cottonwood Canyons, but comparable to that on the Wasatch Back near Park City.  

I have backcountry skied in the southern Oquirrhs and the Stansbury Mountains near Deseret Peak and it is my impression that the snowpack is perhaps 50–60% of that found at comparable elevations in the Cottonwood Canyons.  In addition, in some areas the upper elevations of these ranges are more open and wind affected.  

Ski touring in the Oquirrh Mountains
Photo Credits: Tyler Cruickshank
During January of last year, we found wind-jacked snow in and above the Twin Couloirs on Deseret Peak in the Stansbury Mountains, but nice settled powder at lower elevations.  

Given that they are narrow, I don't believe the contrast in snowfall between the west and east sides of these ranges is significant, but that's purely speculative.  The central and northern Oquirrh Mountains receive more lake effect, but the southern end is broader and higher, which might result in more snow in other storm types.  

To summarize, there is snow in the Oquirrh and Stansbury Mountains, but less than found in the Cottonwood Canyons.  Wind is a bigger issue in these ranges as well, although there are wind-shelted areas that can provide the goods when conditions are right. 

No comments:

Post a Comment