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video: The Skiing Weatherman Conditions Report: January 16-19

Thursday, January 16, 2014

 

Herb Stevens: GoLocalWorcester's Skiing Weatherman

After another shot of mild air that rushed up the eastern seaboard and doused the slopes of the Northeast, the overall pattern is about to undergo changes to a setup that will be much more palatable for skiers and riders. The job of a snowmaker has to be one that is extremely frustrating with this pattern. Arctic outbreaks have been frequent and strong enough to allow for some very productive, multi-day, 24/7 mechanical blizzards this season. But on at least 3 occasions, a quick and wet warm-up has followed on the heels of those windows.

Last week, while most of America was lamenting the intrusion of cold associated with the polar vortex, the mountain crews were pounding new snow onto the slopes and trails of the Northeast. And when the trough responsible for the chill lifted out into northeastern Canada, a southwesterly flow developed over New York and New England, and Gulf moisture came streaming into the region in the form of a soaking rain. Thankfully, the new snow that had been made was very dry, so it did a good job of leaching the rainfall through the surface. The only trails that fell victim to the rain and mild temperatures were natural snow runs, and truth be told, there weren’t a whole lot of them that were open before the warm spell.

We are currently in a “westerly QBO”, or Quasi Biennial Oscillation. That typically results in a colder-than-normal winter over the Northeast, but it doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be setbacks from quick hits of warmth during the season. As I mentioned, we have already experienced several systems that took an unfavorable track to the west, which resulted in a southerly flow of milder air up the East coast, complete with sleet, freezing rain, and plain rain. Going forward, there are strong signs that the mountains will return to much more favorable weather and I expect colder-than-normal conditions to dominate as we head through the heart of the season. But due to a lack of a blocking pattern over the North Atlantic (consistently negative NAO, or North Atlantic Oscillation) we will continue to be susceptible to quick hits of warmth from time to time. That said, the pattern is about to become much more to our liking.

In luck out West

This week will start with milder-than-normal air in place over the Northeast, thanks to the flattening of a jet stream-level ridge over the West coast that has allowed more Pacific air to spread across the country. While that development has not been good news for skiers and riders in this part of the country, if you happen to be travelling to the mountains of the West in the near future, it is good news. The ridge has kept the West from receiving large amounts of snow this season as it has acted as a block for the Pacific storms that come ashore and produce major snow from the Cascade and Sierra coastal ranges eastward through the Rockies.

This past weekend, resorts in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado enjoyed one of their most substantial snowfalls of the season, and conditions are very nice as this week gets underway. However, you western powder hounds had better act fast because as the pattern starts to revert to a western ridge/eastern trough configuration, snowfall will once again become quite scarce in the West.

Closer to home

Here in the Northeast, we are going to see a series of cold frontal passages this week, the first of which will be acting upon air that will not be cold enough to support snow, aside from a short period of mountain snow showers after the front has departed. There will be a little freezing rain on the front end of the system in the lower elevations of northern New England…thankfully there won’t be any connection to the Gulf this time and amounts will be light, though. Another front will slide through Wednesday, triggering a light accumulation in the mountains that will help with the resurfacing effort. By Wednesday night, the crews will be back to making snow 24/7 in northern New England and the mountains of New York, and the lower elevation areas will get back to nighttime snowmaking. Yet another front will move from the Lakes to the eastern seaboard at the end of the week, further deepening the cold air over the region as the western ridge/eastern trough couplet continues to grow in magnitude.

As the trough digs in, there will be several shorter wavelength systems spinning southeastward into the new feature from the plains of Canada…that process helps to make the primary trough become larger and stronger. The big question is whether or not one of these “short waves” will help spin up a surface low along the coast at some point. There is going to be plenty of energy in this pattern as it evolves, and we could see a “surprise” storm dump a fair amount of snow over the interior…the best bet for such an event would be over the upcoming weekend. I use the word “surprise” because you won’t hear much about it until 24 to 36 hours before the snow is flying because the computer models don’t see it right now. If it is not on a model, most modern forecasters will not acknowledge the threat. I am not guaranteeing a storm, but I have seen this developing pattern before, and it is one where models are notoriously clueless.

The pattern is going to have plenty of energy and sufficiently cold…it is going to be a matter of whether or not all the pieces come together at the right time and in the right place. Longer term, the western ridge should strengthen and hold firm late this month into February, which will once again establish the high arctic region as the prime source region for our air masses. That will support an eastern trough that will keep us colder than normal most of the time, and also provide us with the upper level feature necessary for significant coastal storms.

Short term, you will find groomed granular surfaces in the mountains early this week, but a combination of light snow and a renewed snowmaking effort will gradually transform the surfaces to packed powder by the end of the week…just in time for the MLK holiday.

Be sure to check out my video on Thursdays for more details for the long weekend.

 

Related Slideshow: Best Ski + Snowboard Colleges in the East

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Middlebury College

Middlebury, VT

With Stowe and Sugarbush nearby, finding challenging terrain is not an issue at colleges in northern Vermont. Students at Middlebury enjoy the Snow Bowl, owned by the college, for a quick few runs when they are not up for a car ride. In less than a half hour however, they can hit the slopes at Sugarbush or Stowe. You will need to be a top student to get into Middlebury though; with an acceptance rate of just 18%, the college is among a handful of the most selective liberal arts colleges in the country.

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University of Vermont

Burlington, VT

Heading north, in the picturebook city of Burlington on the shores of Lake Champlain, you will find the University of Vermont. Famous for producing both Alpine and Downhill Olympic skiers, UVM is a mecca for winter sports lovers. Buses head from campus to the slopes on the weekends, and students tune their skis in the dorm hallways at night. Sugarbush and Stowe are the most popular ski destinations for UVMers, but Smuggler’s Notch and Jay Peak also draw sports classes and snowboarders looking for slopes off the beaten path. UVM is different than most state schools in that 75% of students come from out-of-state, the university boasts an amazing honors college, it’s home to a ground breaking environmental studies program and a highly rated medical school.

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St. Michael's College

Colchester, VT

Nearby in Colchester, St. Michael’s is a hidden gem among Catholic colleges in New England. St. Mike’s has a warm, pretty campus with a wide variety of majors, including business. Easy access to Burlington and all the same ski areas as UVM, make St. Mike’s a great option for students wanting a small college with reasonable acceptance rates and a nurturing academic environment.

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Dartmouth College

Hanover, NH

For skiers and snowboarders who can make the Ivy League cut, there is really only one college: Dartmouth. Whether you race cross country or are a downhill enthusiast, Dartmouth’s long tradition of elite athletics will ensure top notch competition. Dartmouth has their own “SkiWay”, but it’s not on campus and most students prefer the challenge of a bigger mountain. Since Dartmouth sits close to the New Hampshire/Vermont boarder, there are quite a few options for big mountain skiing, with Killington and Okemo less than 45 minutes away.

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New England College

Henniker, NH

New England College in Henniker is a tiny, ski lovers’ gem. For students who prefer a small college with very personal attention, NEC is a great choice. Those with learning differences will also find a warm and accepting environment with professor mentorships and all the tools necessary to succeed in college.  Students at NEC form a tight knit community and can often be seen heading off with boards tucked under their arms in groups each afternoon to hit the slopes at nearby Loon or Waterville.

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Plymouth State University

Plymouth, NH

Plymouth State offers another option for boarders and skiers in central New Hampshire. With easy access to Waterville, Loon, Cannon and even the North Conway area, there are many choices for big mountain skiing. The college sprawls up the hillside in the quaint town of Plymouth, which is filled with shops and restaurants. With a medium size student body, reasonable acceptance rate and low tuition, Plymouth State is easily accessible for many students.

 
 

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