Drying Out with a Storm on the Horizon

A warm front brought a rather balmy airmass into the Wasatch today, and despite the (always gorgeous) sight of precipitation falling in the mountains, this storm is not really good for much besides covering rocks and adding some water to the snowpack. The northern Wasatch received a few inches of snow (or graupel) possibly exceeding 20% water content, with the upper Cottonwoods receiving up to an inch so far. Sierra Cement. Like I said though, good for building an early season base. It looks like there has been some riming on the ridgelines too.

So unfortunately, the beatiful snow from the Sat-Mon storm is now a distant memory. Today’s storm will wind down tonight after dropping perhaps another inch or two of cement, and then we dry out and warm up big time in the mountains. A strong ridge will build and slide over the western U.S. beginning tomorrow and likely persisting through the weekend. So your Thanksgiving skiing should be warm and pleasant for those relatives in town that whine about the cold…*cough* *cough* Mom *cough* *cough*.

After that, we may be clipped in the northern Wasatch by a storm on Saturday, but it doesn’t look to be a very substantial event. The model-to-model and ensemble spread begin to increase out in the long range, but it looks like a pacific storm will likely impact us early next week. I really want to discuss the details of the model solutions, but this far out things are likely to change, so I’ll do the responsible thing and hold off on talking about fantasy land. It’s really tough to do though…I’m already jonesin’ for another storm.

The GOOD(s). The Bad. And the..storm cycle revamps next week??

The Good

Hopefully you were able to get out and sample the good(s) yesterday or today!! Several of us here at USW were able to get in a few turns, and for November the stoke level was pretty high! The Wasatch did quite well with most areas receiving a foot + at the higher elevation sites. The Cottonwoods, as anticipated, saw 2-3 feet +, and more importantly nearly 3 inches of SWE for building that base. And can’t forget props to Peter and Jeff for nailing this one a few days out (see below if you don’t believe me).  

Not sure if this should go in the good or the bad, but it looks like more snow for the mountains tomorrow. Unfortunately, this will coincide with warming temperatures and will likely turn the snowpack “upside down” with higher density fresh falling on top of the blower pow from the past 24 hours. All is well, though, and we can’t be greedy. All snow is good snow this early in the season, right?! Overall, upper level forcing will be weak and the precipitation will be primarily driven by warm air advection. I’m expecting 2 – 4 inches of high density cement for higher elevations (above 8000-9000 feet) with areas in the far north likely doing best with amnts. Areas lower in the mountains will see lower amounts and may flirt with some rain.

The Bad

As is many times the case following a great storm cycle, we inevitably have to go through a period of ridging (also my least favorite period to forecast for…). A strong Pacific Coast ridge will build in over our region from the west throughout the week. This means don’t expect any new snow through late week after tomorrow. 

All news is not bad news, though. Early indications are that a strengthening trough off the California coast is expected to move across the Intermountain West early next week. The ECMWF, GFS, and Ensembles all show the trough moving through our area, however, significant differences in timing, magnitude, and placement exist. We’ll hopefully be able to paint a better picture in the coming days as the next big *fingers crossed* storm comes into play.

Quick Update on the Storm

Well, it has been a classic Little Cottonwood storm.  With moist NW flow the dendrites have just kept falling. With 8 more inches of 5% blower overnight, Alta’s storm total is up to 34 inches.  Snowbird has similar amounts. Brighton and Solitude are reporting 2 feet.  Everybody else has gotten less than that.  With Alta beng closed yesterday, the lucky few up there today have it pretty good.  

Showers are finally ending over Little Cottonwood as I write this.  More detail will come this evening, but it looks like there will be one last gasp of this strom cycle tomorrow before the ridge builds in.  Unfortunately the snow will fall with rising temps so while an inch of water is possible, snow amounts should be 5-10 dense inches.  Areas below 7000 feet might even see some rain.

Still Looking Snowy After a Slow Start

As I write this a little after 4 pm Saturday, thw rain is pounding my window in SLC and the cold front just reached the Salt Lake Valley.  Snow totals so far in the Wasatch have been disappointing, with the wettest areas getting only 3-4 inches of snow out of up to 0.75 inches of water.  This poor snow/water ratio is likely due to a combination of wet snow due to high freezing levels and graupel.  I could complain, but its November, and water on the ground is always a good thing, even if its dense.

Looking forward, by 6 pm Saturday snow levels should be at the valley floor.  After the frontal band moves out precipitation will turn more showery in northwest flow.  The Upper Cottonwoods should do well in the northwest flow through late tomorrow morning.  I think the Upper Cottonwoods will wring another 8-16 inches out of the storm by noon tomorrow, with other areas receiving 5-10 inches.  Lake effect is possible overnight as well, and my totals hedge a little toward some lake enhancement. This will bring the storm totals up to 12-20 in the Cottonwoods and 8-14 elsewhere.  After minimal accumulations Sunday afternoon and night, another shortwave will drop in from the northwest during the day Monday. I expect 3-8 from that last gasp, with the Cottonwoods again getting the upper end amounts. 

The long range is currently very depressing.  Big ridge for the foreseeable future.

Big snow coming our way

Storm Cycle.

I am so excited to be able to use that word in our first forecast of the season! And that’s exactly what we’ll be in for starting mid-late day Saturday, lasting through early next week. When we say storm cycle, we’re talking about a prolonged period where the large-scale pattern is primed for snowfall, and smaller features moving through this pattern provide the periods of heaviest snowfall. So the snow will be stacking up in spurts throughout this period.

Now for the details and uncertainty in this storm cycle. There has been great agreement in the computer models that we’ll be under the influence of a large upper-level trough sitting to our east throughout the period, putting us under a moist northwesterly flow. This type of pattern typically bodes pretty well for lots of snow in the Wasatch, especially the high terrain of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. The precipitation output by the computer models has agreed pretty well with this assessment over the past few days. However, as I mentioned above, the periods of heavy snowfall within the storm will come from smaller-scale features in the upper level pattern, and the structure and strength of these features is not well-predicted by the models at these kind of lead times (Monday is still 5 days away!). So as we get closer, the true strength of this storm will come into a little better focus.

To illustrate what I mean, here is a time-height cross section from the GFS model. Ignore a lot of the numbers and variables on there, and focus on the periods of green. These have varied quite a bit in the model runs, basically making the difference between a 1 foot storm and a 3 foot storm for Alta.


But I know everyone is looking for some numbers! So with the caveat that these numbers may change a bit as we get closer to the event, here’s my forecast. Drum roll…..I like a general 1-3 FEET for most of the Wasatch where you fine people plan to ski (8,000 feet and above). That said, I would not be surprised if the high elevations sites in the Cottonwoods exceeded these numbers.

Stay tuned for Jeff’s forecast tomorrow, as he’ll have some more certainty on the numbers. Jeff has also been realllly excited about the potential for a big dump from this storm for the past few days, so he is positively giddy to share his snowfall forecast.


Long Range

There is still a ton of spread amongst the models and ensembles on the mid-late next week period, so the forecast confidence is fairly low, but it looks like we’ll remain in an active pattern after this storm. Keep those skis tuned!

Welcome to the new USW!

As some of our returning users may have noticed, our website has been redesigned with a totally new homepage! Utah Ski Weather has been around for almost a decade now, so we figured it was time for a little facelift. Now that the ski season is underway in the Wasatch, we plan to post an updated forecast every day, so make us part of your workday procrastination!

Although our written forecast thoughts will now be front and center on the website, don’t forget that we still have icon-based 5 day forecasts for the major ski resorts in northern Utah! That way you can still get temperature, cloud cover, and snowfall for the exact place you plan to ski. 

We hope that this new format will allow those who want to geek out with us on the weather, as well as those who just want the details at their home resort, to get a useful forecast from us. Feel free to give us feedback on this new layout. As always, count on USW for high quality mountain weather forecasts from bachelor’s and master’s-degreed atmospheric scientists who love to ski as much as they love geeking out over the weather.

See you on the lifts and the skin track this season