Thursday, November 15, 2018

Is Our Recent Spate of Bad Novembers "Unusual"

As far as I'm concerned, November can suck it.  I'm tired of mountain biking in the cold, wishing I was skiing.  Yeah, it's cold enough for snowmaking, but I don't live in Utah to ski fake snow.  I'd rather have some warm weather that's more enjoyable in the valley. 

It's worth taking a look at historical November snowfall at Alta Guard, where the US Forest Service and now the Utah Department of Transportation have kept records back to 1945.  The average November snowfall is 69 inches, although there is great variability (note that 1972/73 is missing in the graph below). It is also apparent that the 1980s and early 1990s were exceptional for November snowfall, with the 10-year running average (thin line below) peaking at over 100 inches in the early 1990s.  November 1994 was the ultimate with 206 inches. 

At issue is this.  Is our recent string of bad Novembers really all that unusual, or were the snowy 1980s and early 1990s the true outlier?  As far as total snowfall is concerned, recent Novembers are not all that unusual compared to the late 50s through the 1970s in terms of total snowfall.  Sadly, we don't have snowfall records going back for several hundred years to put the last 15 years or so into context. 

Note that this does not mean that the climate has not changed (it has) or that the mechanisms responsible for the recent spate of bad November snowfalls aren't different than they were in the late 1950s through 1970s.  Those are issues that would require a much more in depth analysis than I can do for a quick blog post.  However, I do believe it is worth recognizing that the 1980s and early 1990s were exceptional snow years in many ways and that they may not represent the true "average" climate of Utah, even before global warming began to accelerate. 


  1. Don’t forget the El Chichón eruption for 80’s and Pinatubo for the 90’s would love if you could comment and/or provide any more analysis. Thanks

    1. Not really my area. I can just say that both eruptions had a major impact on global temperatures and, based on modeling studies, atmospheric circulations. How that projected onto specifically what happened in Utah is tougher for me to answer without further investigations as those studies generally look at the large-scale circulation.


  2. Temperature changes, whether they be due to volcanoes or global warming, do not necessarily drive precipitation changes. The main threat to skiing of warming is a rise in the rain/snow line. The Wasatch, and the Cottonwoods in particular, are decades away from seeing any material effect. I've scrounged a few long term data sets from Northwest and Northeast locations to observe trends for the last 40+ years. For many of them the ratio of total Nov-Apr precipitation to total snowfall is increasing, but usually at a very modest rate.

    The current run of lean seasons in Utah is severe but not that different from 1953-1963. Some models speculate that the Southwest may get drier (snowfall trends in SoCal and Taos are currently negative) but I've never read of such speculation as far north as the Wasatch.

  3. As far as November sucking it is concerned, it's a month I'm glad to live in SoCal, which has an unusually warm microclimate in the late fall time frame. Yes it can be fire season, and this one was very unusual in Northern California. As for the Woolsey fire you illustrated a few days ago, there were almost identical Santa Ana wind fueled fires that raced from Agoura to Malibu in late October 1978 and early November 1993.

    I often take overseas non-ski vacations in November. If I'm home and get any skiing in November, that's icing on the cake. It's worth driving the 5 hours to Mammoth to ski in November perhaps one of every 3 seasons. Standards would of course b different living in SLC with Alta only a half hour away.

  4. Dr Perry will be none too thrilled to learn his staff is using foul language while blogging on career-line material, with resources funded and furnished by the U.....
    unbecoming of a state employee, to say the least....

  5. I just re-read this twice and could find no foul or offensive language. Great blog - keep up the good work!

  6. What do you think “suck it” means?

  7. I understand “suck it” to be a term of art or expression to more dramatically express that something or someone is bad or undesirable or is held in low regard. I also understand it to be typically used in a way that is detached from any literal meaning or connection to a physical act, such as a goat sucking on the hind (or less desirable) teat of its mother or the less-than-desireable-but-in-no-way-offensive act of sucking on an egg to get the yolk and white out for decorating purposes. In light of this, one needs to include a specific reference or gesture to the physical act that is considered offensive before a generic reference to “suck it” will have an offensive meaning. Since we’re talking about a month here, and there was no reference to any offensive physical act or any equivalent gesturing, the only way I can understand “suck it” is in a metaphorical sense that is wholly unbound from any offensive or sexual connotation. How do you understand “suck it?”


    Just look it up

  9. Assuming that you don’t have a perverted mind that is drawn to one of the other meanings listed for “suck it,” it would appear that you’re referring to this definition: “a salutation, or way to bid farewell to your friends. Used when leaving a party or band rehersal, or when hanging up from a phone conversation.” That’s not necessarily how I understand it, and I don’t understand why you think that meaning is foul and offensive, but I think it goes to show that “suck it” is an expression with a broad range of meanings. It’s kind of like “smurf,” it works for everything — like if I were to tell you to go smurf yourself, you smurfing smurf! Try it - it’s fun!