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.  


  1. Snow conditions in Austria, especially in the northern alps are outstanding these days. Innsbruck city oscillates between rain and within the last 12 h. Avalanche Danger reached the level 5 out of 5 in some regions! Looking forward to meet you in class Jim Steenburgh Innsbruck is giving you a snowy welcome

  2. We are flying to the Alps on Wednesday too. Our flight is to Geneva, but we are driving into eastern Switzerland for the better snow. e will be in St. Moritz over next weekend. The plan after that is Engelberg and Andermatt, but there might be another big northern Alps storm in the middle of next week.

    1. The situation in Austria is quite serious right now with many villages cut off. Better skiing might be in areas that haven't gotten too much snow.