Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bogus Snow Science

Most of what you read about Utah snow is entirely bogus and makes little sense meteorologically.  Yet another example of Zombie meteorology that needs to die is an article by Jeff Layton in the latest Alaska Airlines Magazine entitled Lake Effect:
It’s almost unfair that Salt Lake City has so much excellent skiing at its doorstep, but there is a scientific explanation, my friend Andy Mars told us the next day as we rode one of Brighton’s lifts. The Wasatch mountain rise up from the east edge of town, and the massive Great Salt Lake flanks the city to the west. Winter storms extract moisture from the lake - which doesn’t freeze. The salinity of the lake water gives the snowflakes unique powdery properties, and they pike up in totals that regularly exceed 500 inches per season. 
While it is true that Salt Lake City has a lot of excellent skiing at its doorstep, and the average snowfall in portions of upper Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood exceeds 500 inches, just about everything else about this paragraph is wrong.  Scientific studies have shown that lake-effect storms produce only about 5% of the total precipitation in the Cottonwoods from mid September through mid May.  The idea that the salinity in the lake gives snowflakes unique powdery properties is equally bogus.  You can find drier snow in Colorado.  What makes powder skiing in Utah so great isn't that the snow is unusually dry, but that we get a lot of it and it frequently comes in storms that produce right-side up snowfalls (meaning that we get a lot of storms that produce heavier, higher density snow at the beginning and lighter lower density snow at the end).  

Stick with the Wasatch Weather Weenies to avoid the Zombie meteorology apocalypse.


  1. Haha... "The salinity of the lake, combined with the reefer we are smoking on the lift, makes the snow extra magical, bro"

    I think it's so funny when people say the snow in Utah is so much lighter than Colorado, when that's clearly not true. We just get more of it so it seems fluffier. The other thing I always here is that the reason the snow is so dry is because the "snowflakes dry out when they cross the desert". I have about a dozen other "zombie meteorology" folklore tales. Don't fight it, Jim. It's more fun to hear their version of events.

  2. Zombie meteorology or great copy? Big storms sell, and keep the people engaged in their natural world.

  3. Alaska Airlines Magazine hardly qualifies as a peer reviewed scientific journal, it a marketing tool to help sell airline ticket. In an age of pseudo science and and hyperbole inaccuracies like this abound. It's up to the reader to vet sources and take it all with a grain of salt. Besides, everybody knows its the Wasatch Weather Gnomes who extract the water from the snow to make their sweet sweet Gnome Whiskey.

  4. Jim, You should contribute to which also has some zombie meteorology in it.

  5. Jim, Hurry up and get back to Upstate New York. The air is clear and Mother Nature has something cooking courtesy of Lake Ontario for you and the crew. You missed out on the Ice event a week ago in Northern New York along the lake shore and St. Lawrence Valley. The last two days we have had the "fake snow" in Central New York from down south. We call it "sugar snow." Right now it's zero degrees for our high and the snow squeaks when you walk and drive on it.
    We natives to N.Y. have been watching appreciate your and the teams efforts. It appears this has been an eye opening experience to the team......Just another day in Upstate N.Y. to us!