Sunday, December 30, 2012

Utah's Snowpack Doughnut Hole

One of the curiosities of the current snowpack is the local "drought" that exists in the northern Wasatch Mountains near Ben Lomond Peak.

Source: NRCS
Most SNOTEL stations in northern Utah are near average snowpack snow water equivalent (i.e., 80–119% of average), but the greatest clustering of below average sites is on and just to the east of Ben Lomond Peak.  Look at the area just to the north of Ogden in the image above.

Historically, Ben Lomond is one of the snowiest places in Utah.  The snowpack there at 8000 feet usually rivals that near 9,500 feet in the central Wasatch.

A 13 foot snowpack at 8000 feet on Ben
Lomond Peak, 26 April 2005
However, Ben Lomond has a very unique microclimate.  It tends to get pounded in southerly to southwesterly flow, but gets very little snow when the flow is from other directions.  We haven't had many southwesterly flow storms this year with low snow levels.  As a result, the snowpack at Ben Lomond is lagging.  It can, however, catch up really fast.  Check out what happened last year when there was a southwesterly flow storm in late January that put down more than 10 inches of snow water equivalent (see red line below).  That storm was responsible for almost half of the peak snowpack on Ben Lomond last year.

Ben Lomond Snowpack Snow Water Equivalent.  Source: NWS

In many ways, Ben Lomond is an enigma in the Wasatch Mountains.  It has a "feast or famine" snow climate.  Usually there are enough feasts that the snowpack there is impressive, but this year, the pickins have been slim. 

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