Thursday, January 31, 2019

Mid-Slope Valley Clouds

Spend some time in a deep mountain valley and chances are you will see quite a few clouds during the morning and/or afternoon that form along the mountain slope.  Such clouds are very common in the Inn Valley of Austria this time of year when the humidity in the valley is relatively high, but the skies are partly or mostly cloudy.  I spied such a cloud this morning as I skinned up the Patscherkofel for my morning workout. 

The Inn Valley runs east-west through the northern Alps near Innsbruck, which means the south facing slopes of the Nordkette are strongly heated by the sun.  In contrast, with the sun relatively low in the sky this time of year, the north facing slopes on the south side of the Inn Valley are in the shade or receive weak solar heating.  As a result, a strong upslope flow develops along the slopes of the Nordkette and, in some cases, there can be a low level, thermally driven flow that cuts across the valley from south to north (note that this flow is relatively weak compared to the predominant along-valley flow, so it can be hard to see unless you know to look). 

Cooling in the upslope flow as it ascends can lead to a mid slope cloud band, as illustrated above.  If there is an inversion or stable layer, it can limit the depth of the upslope flow, which then returns to over the valley.  This is what I've sketched above, based on an educational guess and the fact that the photo was taken in the morning when a valley cold pool may have been present and capped by an inversion or stable layer. 

Depending on the conditions, such clouds can persist or burn off.  Mechanisms for doing this include large-scale subsidence (sinking motion) and warming of the valley atmosphere destroying the cold pool and enabling mixing with drier air aloft. 

Due to the drier conditions in Utah, such clouds are less common in the Wasatch Range, but they can be spotted from time to time.  Here's an example of one in Little Cottonwood Canyon. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

South Alps to Get Some

One of the most impressive meteorological characteristics of the Alps is how different the weather can be on the south and north sides of the Alpine Crest.  So far this winter, the north side has gotten much of the snowfall and the south side has suffered.  That will change on Friday when a low-pressure system tracks across France and drives flow with a southerly component into the Alps.  The forecast below rom the German ICON model of mean precipitation rate for the hour ending at 1600 UTC Friday shows extensive precipitation on the south side of the Alps (purple indicates snow).  Although there is some spillover across the Alpine crest, the decline in precipitation as one moves northward is very abrupt, with no precipitation forecast for the northern Alps including areas north of Innsbruck (red dot) and immediately south of Zurich and Salzburg.  Those areas will experience Foehn, a downslope wind. 

I won't be doing this, but it is a quick trip from Innsbruck across the Brenner Pass into Italy if one desperately needs powder.  Friday is a day where there will be a major contrast in weather as one traverses the Alps through the pass.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Glungezerbahn

One of the neat things about an extended stay in the Alps is the opportunity to ski some places that you might never consider going to on a vacation. 

One of my colleagues at the University of Innsbruck invited Andrea and I to join her on a quick trip this afternoon up the Glungezerbahn.  You'd never find a ski area like this in North America given the odd arrangement of lifts and the very limited number of pistes.  First, there is a new 10-person gondola that takes you from just above the village of Tulfes to about 1560 meters. 

Then there is a T-bar that goes up another 500 vertical meters (1600 vertical feet).  Yes, a T-bar.  It has a hell of a view.   

Then there is a double chair going to the top of the lift served terrain.  There are a few "pistes" serviced by the double char, but for all intents and purposes, the intermediate T-bar services a single run.

Andrea ran some laps, while Iva and I skinned from the Halsmarter to the Schartenkogel.  Note the "well worn" skin track to the left of the groomed piste in the image below.  Several others were out getting in their afternoon cardio. 

Today was the first in a while in which the valley was clear, offering a spectacular view of Innsbruck and the Nordkette.   

It's worth a panorama of the Nordkette (click to enlarge) as it drops spectacularly to the Inn Valley.  Double Mt. Superior and replicate it many times.   

I hope to make a return trip for a future workout and perhaps a climb of the peak above the lift-served terrain. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Creme-de-la-Creme of Cold Air

If I remember correctly, my colleague Lance Bosart, who has been a Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University at Albany for 50 years (see this American Scientist article), considers -40ºC the "creme-de-la-creme" of cold at at 850 mb.  

The NAM forecast valid 1800 UTC 29 January (10 AM CST Tuesday) has a small patch of sub -40 850 mb air over northwest Minnesota. 

No point in specifying F or C since -40 is the magic temperature at which the two scales converge (i.e., -40ºF = -40ºC).  

Glad to be watching it from half a world away.  For Utahn's, be grateful you are on the western side of the continental divide.  

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Seefeld Sightseeing

We took a sightseeing trip today up to Seefeld, which will host the 2019 Nordic World Championships in just a couple of weeks.

It's a pretty village, although the main core near the bahnhof (train station) is pretty touristy, with some expensive restaurants and a few trinket shops that are as bad as anything you'll find in the U.S.

We went for a walk and found some cheaper and better dining options off the main strip. 

Seefeld is at 1180 meters (3870 ft) elevation and has an impressive snowpack this year. 

It was overcast when we arrived in the morning, but we got some sun breaks in the early afternoon before we headed back to Innsbruck. 

Although I didn't bring my skate skis with me for lack of room, I hope to rent and get in a few skates.  The train from Innsbruck to Seefeld is free if you have skis and the track starts perhaps a half kilometer or so from the train station, although those trails will be closed for a time for the World Championships.  There is an impressive array of trails (245 km!) linking several towns and villages in the area, with distances far more than I'll be able to cover now that I'm not skating regularly.  More at

Friday, January 25, 2019

Patscherkofel Ski Tour

One advantage of living in Innsbruck is the close proximity of the mountains for ski tours.  I haven't slapped on the skins since arriving here due to the late arrival of our bags, so I thought I'd get a workout in yesterday at one of the local ski resorts.  In general, the resorts here are friendly to tourers, with most simply asking you stay to the side of the trail or follow a designated route, and that you ski during operating hours to avoid issues with grooming equipment, especially winch cats.  It's not powder skiing, but for a quickly after or during the work day, it's a good option. 

Yesterday afternoon I went to the Patscherkofel ski area for a couple of reasons.  One is that we can see it from our apartment.

The other is that it lies at the end of the bus line that is about a 5 minute walk from our apartment, so it is quick and easy to get to if one is aiming to minimize travel time.  Further, that bus line is free if you are carrying skis.

Patscherkofel is a "small" Austrian ski area.  Which means it has only one major lift, but it is a 65 million euro gondola that covers 960 vertical meters (about 3150 vertical feet).  Thursday nights they keep the top station restaurant at timberline open until 10 PM for ski tourers, although I elected to ski in the afternoon and descend prior to dusk given my lack of knowledge of area. 

The big advantage of Patscherkofel is proximity.  From a meteorological perspective, Patscherkofel is in a tough spot.  The photo below, taken from the Nordkette on the other side of the Inn Valley, shows it is largely surrounded by higher terrain, which means it gets the leftovers.  In addition, it is adjacent to the Wipptal (Wipp Valley), which connects to the relatively low Brenner Pass, and is thus exposed to strong, southerly, Foehn winds. 

Yesterday though, it was calm, although it was hazy with some clouds around.  Nevertheless, as usual, the views were spectacular.

Innsbruck and the Nordkette

Inn Valley

The Inn Valley and mountains across the lower Wipptal
The route follows at least in part the Olympic downhill route on which Franz Klammer famously won the 1976 gold medal.  As far as Olympic downhills go, this one is not especially steep, although there are a couple of short sections where you go to maximum stilt, keep the skis flat, and hope you don't slip.  

I've seen a lot of people with touring skis here, but so far, mine are the fattest I've seen!  

The Hahnenkamm is today at 11:30 local time.  We were going to alpine ski at Patscherkofel tomorrow and catch the race at the resort where they were going to be broadcasting it, but they moved the race up a day due to weather (and clouds are still an issue).  Tomorrow, the Steenburgh effect reverses as we should get some snow, although it's unclear how far into the Alps the snow will push.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Finally Skiing in the Alps

Our skis finally arrived on Monday night.  Tuesday was bluebird, so we took the bus up to the Axamer Lizum ski area to get in some laps.

For some bus and train lines here, if you are carrying skis, there is no charge.  It's a nice concept and a good way to encourage transit.  No scanning of cards either, which makes life easier when you are getting on and off the bus. 

Axamer Lizum is in the mountains southeast of Innsbruck.  From near the summit, one looks over the Inn Valley, Innsbruck, and the Nordkette range. 

Elsewhere on a day like yesterday, views were a dime a dozen, with incredible terrain in all directions, as seems to be the case throughout the Alps.  If you look closely in the picture below (click to enlarge) you can find a mountain hut just left of center near a patch of sun. 

Axamer Lizum is a modest sized resort by Austrian standards with several lifts, perhaps 10 or 15 major pistes, and about 2500 vertical feet.  I'm not sure what the acreage is, but if include off piste, it's probably a smidge smaller than Alta. 

The resort's Olympiabahn is an iconic funicular that is ancient, but has no problem racing up the mountain (pictured below through the window of the summit restaurant).

Conditions here are good, but a refresh is needed. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Steenburgh Winter Arrives

Steenburgh winter, that magic period that begins when the Alta-Collins snow depth reaches 100 inches and ends on February 10 when the influence of the sun begins its seasonal "ramp up" in earnest on south aspects and eventually all aspects, began yesterday at 1 PM MST.

Steenburgh winters are the creme-de-la-creme of backcountry powder skiing.  They occur when there is a magic overlap between a deep snowpack and the low-angle sun.  There can be good skiing before and after Steenburgh winter, sometimes very good, but powder snobs know there's nothing like years when there is a deep snowpack and a low-angle sun to potentially enable aggressive lines to be skied as powder persists on all aspects when the avalanche hazard allows. 

Steenburgh winters have been rare in recent years.  There was a brief appearance during the 2016/17 season, but I think the last extended Steenburgh winter was in 2010/11.  Looks like you will have nearly three weeks of it this year.

Enjoy, but please enjoy responsibly.  In recent years, a small, but growing number of people have been violating interlodge restrictions in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Alta central reports that they arrested nine individuals this week. 

Interlodge is no joke.  It is serious business.  It exists for several reasons including (1) live artillery, including 105 mm armor penetrating or anti-infantry hells, is being shot across the highway, (2) large avalanches released by explosive work have and can hit the highway, parking lots, and structures, (3) buildings, especially fortified ones, are the safest place to be, and (4) public and snow safety professionals need to do their jobs. 

Violating interlodge puts others in harms way and delays the opening of the resort, backcountry, and highway.  If the problem persists or worsens, we can all expect more draconian measures to be taken that will impact our recreational pursuits.  Let's keep it real. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Seegrube Visit

With our skis still MIA, yesterday we worked for part of the day and then took a break in the early afternoon to hike up to Hungerburg and ride the Seegrube tram up to the Seegrube Restaurant above Innsbruck.  Views of Innsbruck, the Inn Valley, and the surrounding mountains were spectacular.

The ski area at the top was still closed due to avalanche hazard.  This after several days of snowfree weather. 

Nevertheless, the ski tours were out and had gotten some tracks. 

The were even pushing into steep terrain.  Note the black spot in the middle of the bowl below and just to lookers left of the steep couloir. 

I don't know if I've ever witnessed a ski area closed for avalanche danger being skied by tourers.  I suspect the area is open today. 

From a distance, it looks like you are getting a pretty good storm in Salt Lake.  Nine inches on the Collins stake from 4 to 8 AM will get your attention, even from Austria.  Enjoy while I continue to wait for my skis.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Austrian Ski Report (Not)

When we arrived in Munich last Wednesday, we learned that our two duffel bags made it, but our two ski bags had been "expedited" by Delta to Amsterdam.  Wonderbar!

It is now Sunday and we still do not have our ski bags.  Typically when I fly for a ski vacation, I carry on enough clothes and ski paraphernalia, including my boots, to rent a pair of demo boards and ski if my bags are lost. 

In this case, however, since we have other responsibilities, that wasn't possible.  We had other items we needed to take on the plane.  While we were smart enough to bring some winter clothes, we couldn't bring it all and certainly not enough to ski.

As such, we've been stuck in Purgatory. 

The closest I've been to skiing since arriving in Innsbruck.
This wasn't an issue for a couple of days.  We weren't planning on skiing right after we arrived as we needed to get "established" for the long haul in Innsbruck.  We kept ourselves busy getting settled in, meeting with colleagues at the University, etc. 

But yesterday (Saturday), when the whereabouts of the bags were still unknown, we decided we needed to do something.  We spent a couple of hours walking through the ski shops in town and trying to figure out how costly it would be to buy enough clothes and goggles to get us to the point we could ski if we rented.  We didn't need everything.  Andrea was able to borrow some clothes from a friend in town.  However, the cost was still prohibitive and probably larger than we could hope to get reimbursed for from Delta.  What to do? 

We went to a cafe and had a drink.  Then went back to take the plunge.  As I was trying on some clothes for sizing, Andrea got a notice that the bags had been found.  Hooray!

We decided to wait on buying anything.  Even if we could get fully reimbursed from Delta (who vaguely says we are entitled to around $50 a day if we keep it reasonable, but we would be well above that if we bought what we needed), we don't know how we would get those clothes back to the states later.  So today we are working and hoping that the bags are delivered soon.  We may walk up to the Nordkettebahn and take a ride to enjoy the views. 

In other news, we were able to purchase freizeittickets, which are recreational passes that cover 28 Tirolian ski areas and other facilities.  I was able to swim at the nearby pool using it yesterday rather than paying 7 euro.  In addition to skiing, it will cover lift rides for hiking in the spring, entries to some of the museums, etc. Each costs only 531 euro (they would have been 488 in October, but we couldn't buy them then since we didn't yet have a local address).   Perhaps more non-ski recreation options will be integrated into the Ikon or Epic passes in the future.

Finally, it is quite remarkable what you can find in the grocery stores here now.  How about pale ales and IPAs?  Yup.  You never would have seen those in Innsbruck a few years ago.  Even Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream!

The times they are a changing. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Steenburgh Effect Giveth

What can I say.  The Steenburgh effect just keeps on giving.

Since leaving Utah a couple of days ago, the Wasatch Range has gotten pounded.  I'm not paying close attention to the weather there, but I have gotten messages thanking me for leaving and did notice that Alta's web site is reporting 21 inches in the past 48 hours. 

Meanwhile, the northern Alps were coming unglued prior to our arrival.  Too much of a good thing.  The Steenburgh effect giveth here as well as a break was sorely needed to allow for transportation routes to reopen and the avy danger to subside.  Since we've arrived, it's been partly to mostly sunny skies in Innsbruck with just a few spits of snow (although there were a few inches at some mountain locations last night).  I think the locals are thanking me for now, but they might run me out of town if this continues for a few more days. 

Meanwhile, I "moved" into my temporary home at the University of Innsbruck.  This might be the most spectacular setting for a mountain meteorology program in the world.  Below is the view looking eastward down the Inn Valley from my office. 

Although we are chomping at the bit, Andrea and I have not been able to ski yet.  More on why perhaps in a future post. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Stoke Is High

Andrea and I arrived in Innsbruck yesterday for the start of my Fulbright Professorship at the University of Innsbruck.  The stoke was high as we flew into Munich and then shuttled to Innsbruck, which allowed us to start in the plains and proceed into the Alps in spectacular fashion.  Thanks to recent storms, the mountains were pasted white and we had about as much fun as you can have crammed into a shuttle bus.

Approaching Innsbruck from the east
We were very pleased to find the apartment we rented site unseen exceeds expectations.  It was recommended by a previous Fulbright professor, but I think he undersold it.  It is surprisingly spacious and has a nice Tirolian flair, especially in the bedroom where there are beautiful wooden built-in cabinets and beams.  We also have some nice vistas from the windows and balcony. 

Looking south at the Patscherkofel ski area, where Franz Klammer famously won the Olympic downhill gold medal in 1976.  North facing, I've watched it as we've run errands today and it's been continuously in the shade all day.  It must be a cold place to ski!  Also evident at right is the Bergisel ski jump, which is a beautiful structure built right in town.  
Looking north toward the Nordkette and Karwendel Alps

Tired and jet lagged, we enjoyed an evening walk into the old town for dinner.  Sadly the photo below doesn't do the evening light justice.      

Nordkette and the Karwendel Alps
We've been running errands and doing a little work today.  We had planned to ski tomorrow (Friday), but Delta sent our ski bags to Amsterdam instead of Munich.  No word yet on when we will receive them.   

Rumors are that the stoke is high in Utah as well with another storm underway.  Enjoy the powder.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Contrasts between Persistent and Diurnal Cold Pools

Great examples of persistent and diurnal cold pools exist presently over northern Utah.

The persistent cold pool exists over the Great Salt Lake Basin, including the Salt Lake Valley, where widespread fog and stratus are present, as illustrated by yesterday afternoons modis imagery.  It is sometimes difficult to discern fog and stratus from snow in visible imagery, but the smooth nature of the coverage and the inability to see the Great Salt Lake are dead giveaways. 

Modis Imagery 13 January 2019
One can also use multiple satellite channels to detect fog and stratus, as is done in the image below for 0915 UTC (0215 MST) this morning.  Note the area of white covering the Great Salt Lake Basin, as well as the Uinta Basin to the east. 

Source: NWS Aviation Weather Center
The sounding from the Salt Lake City International Airport shows a relatively deep cold pool extending from the surface to 814 mb (6250 ft).  The temperature then increases 6ºC in a sharp inversion layer (indicated by orange).  Above that level, the atmosphere is quite dry throughout the remainder of the troposphere (green). 

Sounding source: SPC
The low clouds over the Salt Lake Valley sit right at and below the base of the inversion, resulting in a sea of stratus covering the Salt Lake Valley, as can be seen from the Snowbird Prism Cam.

Source: Snowbird
Below the stratus, a dreary, dark scene exists, with cloud base somewhat poorly defined.  The photo below was taken looking south from the upper Avenues. 

As we have discussed previously, although it looks dark and dreary, the reality is that a deep cold pool of this type, capped by stratus, results in mixing through a deeper layer than when the inversion is based right at the valley floor.  As a result, while there is still pollution, the concentration levels along the valley floor are not as bad as in periods when the inversion is lower.  Note, for example, how PM2.5 concentrations over the past couple of days have been lower than they were on the 10th and the 11th. 

Source: Utah Division of Air Quality
In contrast, a diurnal cold pool exists this morning in the Snyderville Basin near Park City.  There, with clear skies overnight, temperatures plummeted and at 15:16 UTC (0816 MST) were -8ºF at Silver Junction and Kimball Junction.  It was also 2ºF at the Park City Golf Course.   In contrast, it was in the mid 20s mid mountain at Park City Mountain Resort. 

Although the persistent cold pool present over the Salt Lake Valley doesn't burn off during the day, the cold pool in the Snyderville Basin is diurnal.  It forms at night and burns off during the day. 

Compare, for example, the temperature traces (red line) at the Salt Lake City airport and Silver Creek Junction (note scale change).  There is practically no diurnal (daily) temperature cycle at the Salt Lake City International airport.  Instead, there is a gradual decline in temperature during the period.  This reflects the presence of low clouds, which reduce incoming solar radiation received at the ground as well as the overnight cooling.  We remain capped by an elevated inversion all day long. 

In contrast, there is a huge diurnal cycle at Silver Creek.  Temperatures last night and the previous night fell to below zero, but yesterday afternoon, the high was 30ºF.  Here, a shallow cold pool forms under clear skies each night, and then burns off during the day. 

Residents of the Summit Park area observe some remarkable temperature variations on days like this.  Note how it is -8ºF at Kimball Junction, -6ºF along Pinebrook Boulevard near I-80, 9˚F near the top of Pinebrook Road, and 21˚F across I-80 at the Parley's Summit SNOTEL.

My skate ski today, which will be my final ski of the season in Utah, will need to wait until afternoon when temperatures are more tolerable...

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dumpage in the Northern Alps

It has been a remarkable start to 2019 in the northern Alps where snowfall has been frequent and heavy, including in low elevation areas in the Alpine foreland (i.e., foothills).  We'll focus here on the Loser-Altaussee ski area southeast of Salzburg and indicated by the red thumbnail below. 

Source: Google Maps
The lift-served terrain in the area extends from 850 to 1800 meters (2800 to 5900 feet).

Snow depths being reported for the resort on this morning are 250 cm (100 inches) in the valley and 490 cm (nearly 200 inches) on the upper elevation.  I'm not sure how good those numbers are, so it is worth an eye test.  Here's a shot from the camera at the top of the resort as the sun set this afternoon.  Deep. 

The ski area is shut down due to high avalanche hazard.  Serious avalanche hazard. 

From a meteorological perspective, the driver of all this snow has been a persistent high amplitude flow pattern featuring ridging over the northeast Atlantic and troughing over eastern Europe.  This had led to the passage of troughs in northerly to northwesterly flow, with precipitation enhancement over the northern Alps.  Note that some of those troughs also produced heavy snowfall in southeastern Europe and central Italy, the latter due at least in part to sea effect generated over the Adriatic.  

Heavy snowfall continues in the northern Alps today.  The Météo France Arpege model forecast valid 0000 UTC (0100 Central European Time) Monday shows moist northwesterly flow impinging on the Alps with rainfall in the upstream lowlands and heavy snowfall in the northern Alps.  

I don't know how good the Arpege new-snow depth totals are, but significant totals (> 50 cm/20 inches) are predicted from France to eastern Austria with a maximum (128 cm/50 inches) in the Arlberg region of Austria.  

Equally remarkable to the snow totals in the northern Alps is how little snow there is in portions of the southern Alps, such as the Dolomites.  The image below was taken this afternoon above the Val di Fiemme southwest of Balzano, Italy.  

Will the Steenburgh effect put an end to this insanity?  We will find out soon enough as we arrive in Innsbruck on Wednesday.