Saturday, March 14, 2015

World's Snowiest Ski Area Is Closed

Mt. Baker, which averages nearly 650 inches of snow a year (thought to be the highest of any ski area in the in the world) and received a world record 1,140 inches of snow in the 1998/99 season, is temporarily closed for lack of snow.

A video discussing the decision is provided below.  

SNOTEL data shows a pretty grim picture with regards to snowpack in the Pacific states and southern Arizona and New Mexico.  

The causes of these low totals, however, vary geographically.  In southern Oregon, California, and southern Arizona and New Mexico, it's been a combination of below average precipitation and warmth has led to the low snowpack.  In contrast, in Washington, it's actually precipitation has actually been near or above average, but most storms have brought rain to elevations that typically receive snow. 

Let's have a look at data from a couple of SNOTEL stations in the North Cascades.  The first is Wells Creek, which is west of the Cascade crest and not far from Mt. Baker Ski Area.  It's eleveation, 4200 feet, is also close to that of the base of the ski area.  

The snowpack at Wells Creek currently contains less than 5 inches of snow water equivalent (i.e., the depth of water you would have if the snowpack melted).  For this location, that is the lowest on record (red line is the minimum, but data goes back only to 1996).  Average at this location is for mid March is something closer to 30 inches.      

Source: Pacific Northwest River Forecast Center
The plot below shows a different perspective for the same site.  The black line shows the accumulated precipitation since 1 October, the grey line the average accumulated precipitation, the red line the median snowpack snow water equivalent, and the blue line the observed snow water equivalent.  Note that precipitation for the season is actually a bit above average.  The snowpack is low primarily because a greater-than-average fraction of precipitation this winter fell as rain instead of snow.  There are a couple of periods during which the snowpack declines, indicating that some melting contributed too, but it was the warmth of the storms that has largely been the problem. 
Source: NRCS
One sees a different picture, however, if you go to high elevation, especially east of the Cascade Crest which has a somewhat colder wintertime climate.  At Harts Pass, which is at 6500 ft, the snowpack is very close to average.  

Depending on how the next few weeks play out, this could be a fairly interesting spring in the Cascades.  Given the lack of snow in the low-to-mid elevations, access to some remote areas via logging roads might come much earlier than usual, while a decent snowpack lingers in the upper elevations.  This might be advantageous for some early spring touring in the North Cascades and on volcanoes like Mt. Adams, that typically are hard to access until very late in the spring.  

1 comment:

  1. Story is pretty similar in our neck of the woods - seems precip is not the issue! Scope Turnagain Pass: