Friday, March 7, 2014
As The Skiing Weatherman, Herb Stevens has been the go-to guy for snow conditions for skiers and riders for more than 25 years, first on televisions stations up and down the East Coast, and now on newspaper-related web sites. A lifetime New England skier, Herb travelled the world as a caddy on the PGA Tour for five years before launching his career as a meteorologist. After one year at WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I., he became one of the original on-camera meteorologists at The Weather Channel, and later was chief meteorologist at WNYT-TV in Albany, N.Y. While at WNYT, Herb pioneered a weekly on-snow ski report, which later became his full-time job as The Skiing Weatherman.
If anyone tries to tell you that “there is no such thing as TOO MUCH of a good thing” you can point to the missed opportunity of a major snowfall in the Northeast that is playing out as this week gets underway.
You see, the front that moved through the region late this past weekend delivered cold air of arctic origin, and that is normally a good thing for skiers and riders in the Northeast, especially when you get into March when the days are longer and the sun angle higher. Every cold day preserves the snow one day longer before the inevitable onset of spring and its sloppier surface conditions.
This time, however, the front went too far - all the way to the mid-Atlantic region - where it served as a focal point for low pressure to feed off as it moved out of the Tennessee Valley toward the Atlantic seaboard. The cold air banked over New York and New England is getting reinforced by the clockwise circulation around high pressure over western Ontario, and that is helping to suppress the storm track too far to the south to do us any good - this time.
While we are missing out on this shot at new snow, or “New England Clam Powder” as it was called on a recent hilarious SNL skit, I am confident we will have numerous other chances for a late season powder day as this month unfolds. The same western ridge/eastern trough setup at the jet stream level that has dominated for much of this winter is still in place, and based on analogs that I have identified along with longer range model forecast support, we should remain colder than normal much of the time for the foreseeable future. In fact, the first half of this week will be cold enough to force you to put on the same number of layers before you ski or ride that you would in the heart of winter.
After a brief interlude of more spring-like weather with milder temperatures and some rain late last week and over the weekend, colder air is on the march southeastward from Canada and will become the dominant air mass over the Northeast until further notice.
In the wake of the cold front that moved through Friday night, the air wasn’t initially all that cold, and that was a blessing. Why? Well, several times this year we have seen mild, damp weather followed immediately by a direct discharge of pure arctic air, which turned surfaces to shiny, firm ice. This time, the incoming air mass was not cold enough to keep daytime temperatures below freezing, and surface conditions, while certainly more moist than the wonderful packed powder we have enjoyed much of February, were very carveable for the most part.
Many states were wrapping up school vacations, while others were getting theirs underway, and from a business standpoint, the relatively mild temperatures were a very positive development for skiers, riders and the resorts.
Now that cold air has returned, the surfaces have firmed up, to be sure, but over the next several days, there will be several ways for light snow to be generated over the Northeast and that will help morph the surfaces back to packed powder by later this week.
President’s Day week is in full swing at the resorts across the Northeast. Hundreds of school districts are on vacation, and that is great news for the resorts, as they are now sporting their best conditions of this season. In fact, they are about as good as they can get, thanks to the snowy pattern that has dominated the region this month. Another light snow event will pass through the Northeast on Tuesday, and that will help refresh the surfaces that have seen high levels of traffic for the past few days.
A warm-up is on the way, but it won’t last long, and longer term, the season looks as though it is going to go flying into March with no signs of letting up.
I have been taping Skiing Weatherman reports for 27 years, totaling more than 500 “shoot days” on the snow. During that time, I have had the good fortune and good timing to shoot the segment in the midst of a true powder day less than a dozen times. Last week, I hit the powder lottery when my hard working cameraman, David Huot, and I visited Mt. Sutton in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The snow fell at 2 to 3 inches per hour for the entire day, and every turn felt as though it was being made on a pillow.
Sutton is my favorite resort of the more than 400 that I have visited through the years. More than half the terrain is gladed (“su bois” in French) and the trail/glade layout is so natural it looks as though nothing more than a few teaspoons of dirt were moved when the trails were laid out more than 50 years ago.