Line ’em Up

While it may have been looking a little bleak in the long range, even as recent as a few days ago, things are about to take a turn for the better. Over the past couple days models have keyed in on a much more progressive & active pattern as we head into the mid-late week timeframe. While no one storm looks particularly impressive, it’s the active pattern (& lack of large scale upper level ridging) that’s important to focus on.

A brief period of upper level ridging will traverse Northern Utah tomorrow and Wednesday ahead of the first of (at least) 3 systems. If you’re headed up into the mountains expect sunny and much warmer conditions than we’ve seen of late. Unfortunately, this also means strengthening valley inversions; though, because of the progressive pattern things should clear out by Thursday. Speaking of, that first shortwave trough will be moving in from the west and weakening as it approaches Utah. However, it should still have somewhat decent dynamics and moisture to work with if one believes the more aggressive GFS. The GFS has about .3-.5” of QPF for the mountains of Northern Utah, whereas the European is only showing about .1-.2”. I’ll let tomorrow’s forecaster throw out some numbers since we still have some differences between the models. If I had to put something down, though, worst case scenario = a couple inches, more likely scenario = around a half foot. Far north and the Cottonwoods look the most favorable.

After this first storm expect a quick break late Thursday, followed by another round of snow beginning early Friday. This shortwave will traverse our area more so from the NW. Models have been trending more aggressive and the GFS/European are in good agreement with > .4” QPF – Without getting into too many details this should be a more substantial storm than the prior. Finally, another storm late Saturday – early Sunday should impact the Wasatch with additional accumulations. Overall, I like what I’m seeing from the pattern – hopefully this will be the start of breaking the January curse.

Great Conditions and Possible Snow on The Horizon?

The generous snowfall the past few weeks has made for some awesome skiing at the resorts with many places having almost 100% of their terrain open. Conditions today were some of the best I have experienced with blue skies and light winds into the early afternoon hours.  Hopefully you all have been able to get out and enjoy it!

The short term forecast looks fairly uneventful as a ridging pattern will settle in through at least mid week.  This will also basically take any chance of measureable precipitation out of the equation. These type of conditions will likely result in a low level cold pool (inversion) which will make temperatures at the resorts similar to those in the Salt Lake Valley.  Highs should be in the low to mid 30’s through Wednesday with the next possible disturbance moving in Wednesday night. Accumulations will likely be negligible but expect light snow showers or flurries in the Northern Utah mountains. 

The models are expecting the next measurable snowfall to occur Thursday into Friday following the cold front late next week. Stay tuned.. Next weekend may be an excellent opportunity for fresh tracks!

Some Decent Totals

After a long break in the snowfall, most resorts saw some decent accumulations over the past 3 days.  In the last 48 hours, Powder Mountain reported 4”, Park City 8”, Alta/Snowbird 10”, and Sundance with 17”!  The south facing aspects were largely favored for Wednesday night’s snowfall.

The forecast outlook suggests we’re going to have to savor this storm.  While a few scattered snow showers are possible, weak upper-level flow will take hold and persist for at least a week.  About 7 days out, the GFS indicates a shortwave feature clipping northern Utah, bringing precipitation with it.  Meanwhile, some EC ensembles have this feature missing to the north and leaving Utah dry, while some indicate at least some precipitation for northern Utah.  Best to enjoy the fresh powder this weekend, and hope for another shot next weekend.

Final Round

The final round in our slow-motion, long-duration storm has arrived in the Wasatch as I write this on Thursday afternoon. It looks like there are snow showers at most of the resorts, and that should continue through the night and into tomorrow. Doesn’t look to be a windfall, but there will be good powder turns to be had at a lot of the resorts…especially if we come in on the higher end of the forecast.

Speaking of, my forecast from Wednesday is still looking good…although it looks like the PC resorts and Snowbasin will come in higher than the 5-9″ I forecasted for them. I always love to see a busted forecast on the high side! Deer Valley is sitting somewhere in the 4-8″ range so far and Snowbasin is at 7″, so this last round of snow should put them well over the top. With around 5″ so far, the Cottonwoods still have some catching up to do to meet my 7-14″ forecast, but I think they’ll get there fairly easily too.

I’m thinking another 4-8″ by Friday for everybody looks reasonable. The winds will be pretty light, so the traditional climatological advantage that the Cottonwoods enjoy from orographic enhancement will be limited or nonexistent. This is in theory, of course. The atmosphere is a chaotic system, and often doesn’t play by the “rules” of fluid dynamics we learn in classes here at The U!

After the storm ends on Friday, it looks like some clouds and a chance of snow showers will linger in some areas through the weekend, but don’t expect them to add up to anything. No major storms in the long range as of yet.

Brian Head update: they were reoprting 7″ so far at the resort at the resort as of this morning, and I saw that another 4″ or so has fallen at a nearby snotel site, so I’ll call it 11″ there so far as of this afternoon. Looks like they will get into the range for my 1-3 foot forecast, but on the pretty low end. Let’s hope for a big blast this evening to help out the skiers down there.

Great skiing to end the week

Finally! After a nearly 2-week break in the action, more snow has returned the Wasatch. It’s been coming down pretty good over the past several hours with 3-6” having fallen in most locations since Peter’s forecast yesterday evening – the lower end of that falling on the PC side. Snow will quickly taper off in the early morning (Thursday) hours as the shortwave moves off towards the east. This will pave the way for the next shortwave affecting Utah from the southwest late tomorrow into Friday. This is where things get a little complex. 

Models are coming into better agreement that this next shortwave will close off into an upper level low near SW Utah. The exact location will have important implications on any wrap around precipitation and flow direction. The NAM, EURO, and half the GFS Ensembles indicate a wrap around band will train over the Central-Northern Wasatch for an extended period. Furthermore, flow transitions to a favorable NW direction for the Cottonwoods on Friday. The other models, however, have subtle differences and therefore are much less aggressive on precipitation amounts. All this being said, I think Peter’s forecast is still in fairly good shape (7-14” in the Cottonwoods through Friday). This would mean an additional 3-7” in the Cottonwoods and 2-5” elsewhere – those lowest amounts likely falling in the far N Wasatch.

In summary, the wrap around band models are depicting for late tomorrow-early Friday will likely impact the Central-Northern Wasatch. The exact location, however, will be crucial as there will be a sharp cutoff in snowfall totals – meaning there will be some big winners and also, unfortunately some losers. Stay tuned to any updates – we’ll hopefully have a better idea tomorrow morning with use of the more short range mesoscale models.

How far is the drive to Brian Head?

The round of light precipitation that fell yesterday and today served as the appetizer for the main event that is set to begin tonight/tomorrow morning for most of the state. Although we will be getting a decent shot of snow in the Wasatch, the central and southern mountains of Utah really look to do well from this storm. You may be asking yourself whether it is worth the drive down I-15 to go check out Brian Head, who will likely see 1-3 feet of snow by the weekend.

As for the Wasatch, where most of our readers ski, do not despair. We’ll be getting freshies too! A large upper-level trough is settling in over the southwest U.S., and over the next few days, small upper-level disturbances within that trough will bring us rounds of precipitation, with some periodic breaks in the action. The EC has a pronounced break on Thursday, but the GFS keeps things a bit more continuous. The first round of mountain snowfall begins early tomorrow morning, and the last round will likely taper off late Friday/early Saturday. 

I’m not sure what period I should select for my snowfall amounts, but I’m thinking I’ll go out on a limb like Tom did and forecast for Wed am-Fri pm. I like 7-14″ for the Upper Cottonwoods and 5-9″ for the northern Wasatch and PC area resorts. That’s a long period though, so don’t expect the snow to be piling up too fast (unless you’re at Brian Head). The snow density be moderate to begin with, and will be decreasing for the later half of the storm as temperatures cool off. 

The forecast does not look great after this storm departs, but that’s still a little ways out, so hopefully the model solutions will change as we get closer.

Storminess Returns

The relatively quiet pattern that has influenced the weather in Utah for the last couple weeks looks like it’s about to finally come to an end.  As indicated by the long range models almost 10 days ago, a pattern typical in an El Nino year is finally coming to fruition.  Storms are lined up across the Pacific and are forecasted to impact the the southwest US.


Here in Utah we can expect multiple waves of low pressure to affect the region over the next week.  These systems will favor southern areas of the state.  The first system is crossing over the southern half of the state right now.  It’s generating light snow showers over the central and northern Wasatch and a steadier snow over the southern Wasatch.  The next, stronger system will come through late Tuesday and into Wednesday.  This system has the potential to drop heavy snow over the southern Wasatch and moderate snow over the central and northern Wasatch.  Total accumulations through Friday should be in the 3-6 inch range in the northern Wasatch and at PCMR.  A bit more can be expected in the Upper Cottonwoods with totals in the 6-10 inch range.  The southern Wasatch will be the winners this week with 1-2 feet possible at Brian Head.

El Nino has arrived

After a relatively quiet period over the past week or so, it looks like things are finally picking up again. Over the past couple months anybody in tune with the weather has heard nothing but hype out of the “Godzilla” El Nino. Well, it looks like the more direct weather effects commonly associated with El Nino will finally be coming to fruition. A very active subtropical jet will cause a series of shortwave troughs to penetrate the Southwest. Unfortunately, this type of penetration tends to quickly dry things up as the moisture from these storms is scoured in the highest elevations of the Sierras. This is why we commonly get more excited by westerly or more northwesterly approaching storms – lower peak elevations in the N Cal Sierras and points northward are often more favorable for the Wasatch. Nonetheless, the systems will be quite moist so we should get at least some leftovers.

All that being said, what does this mean for potential snowfall in Northern Utah? The initial weaker shortwaves on Monday and early Tuesday will only lead to minimal accumulations in Northern Utah. A more significant storm, however, will affect the SW U.S. heading into Wednesday. If you’re in the Sierras, Southern Utah, or Arizona things are looking GOOD. I’m not as optimistic about things for the Northern Wasatch due to the SW approach I mentioned above. QPF output, however, is quite variable from model guidance – NAM = .55” , GFS = .6” (SLC), GFS ensembles = .4”, EURO = .25”, EURO ensembles = .35”. Essentially the American models (GFS, NAM) are more aggressive and the EC is less. It’s still probably a little too far out for exact totals but if I had to throw something out right now I’d go with 3 – 6” in the Northern/Central Wasatch for total accumulations by the end of Wednesday. Not great but better than nothing. Hopefully other forecasters after me will be able to nudge those totals up a tad if confidence increases in the American model solutions.

Beyond Wednesday it looks like things will continue to stay fairly active. Model guidance is hinting at a storm coming from a potentially more favorable trajectory (W/NW) by next weekend. Since this is more in model la la land I’ll let the other forecasters get into the details in coming days.

The Bright Side

While we continue to wait for the forecast to inspire hope, there is much to be pleased about.  December did wonders for Utah’s snowpack.  After a slow start, the snow water equivalent (amount of water contained in the snowpack) is now at or near average across northern Utah, and above average for southern Utah. This has allowed for resorts to open most of their terrain, as well as bury many of those hidden surprises when venturing off the groomers. 

Conditions were actually quite good today; for reference, I skied Snowbird.  The cold temperatures have left the snow nice and soft, and I was even able to find a few powder runs without hiking.  In the short term, I image the backcountry should be quite desirable.  As always with the backcountry, be sure to utilize the Utah Avalanche Center and use good judgment. 

Happy New Year!

Skier’s Block

Well, for those of you hoping for a big storm on the horizon, you will will have to look elsewhere.  I blocking pattern called a rex block will take up residence over the Western United States for at least the next 4 days. Rex blocks are marked by high pressure to the north of low pressure, and that is what we will have the rest of this week. On Thursday, a shortwave trough rotating out of the longwave trough that has been camped over the Western U.S. for the last few days will elongate and cut-off over Nevada.  A big ridge building over British Columbia will provide the second ingredient. This cut-off will be weak and quite dry. All it will do is keep temperatures below normal for another couple days.  This low will kick out of Utah late Saturday.

Other than a few lingering light snow showers today there isn’t any snow to speak of until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.  Even then things aren’t too promising.

I think your best bet this week will be to rip some groomers or take advantage of the snow-preserving temperatures and go find some lines in the backcountry.  After the cut-off low moves out late Saturday temperatures in the mountains will warm significantly, causing some haze to develop in the valley and crusting many mid- and low-elevation slopes that face the sun.

On another note, the pattern change that is happening on a continental scale right now is consistent with what you would expect from El Nino.  The wet and cool December that WA and OR saw is not typical of El Nino. The climate forecasts of the next month are indicating dryer and warmer conditions in the PNW will things getting stormy in California, Arizona, and New Mexico.