Friday, March 7, 2014
After a consistently cold run-up to the holidays that allowed resorts across the region to build up base depths and trail counts to their best December levels in years, Mother Nature threw a nasty curveball at us this weekend.
A significant shot of warmth was thrust up the eastern seaboard and when it collided with a dome of cold, dense arctic air parked over the Northeast, a battle royale ensued. Several waves of low pressure moved along the slot where the temperature contrast was strongest, from the Ohio Valley through upstate New York and then right across the resorts of northern New England.
At the same time, a strong area of high pressure was parked over Ontario, funneling more low level cold into the region. While the air aloft warmed to above freezing, the cold air at the surface hung tough across much of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, a perfect setup for an ice storm.
What the resorts ended up with was a mix of a little snow and a good deal of sleet and freezing rain. Not an ideal scenario, but it beats the heck out of getting thoroughly doused with rain, which is what happened further south. The record warmth experienced over much of the Northeast never reached the resorts and the cold air that hung tough helped to preserve the snow on the trails. The layer of sleet and ice actually formed an effective cap on the base snow, and that will pay dividends the next time warm air tries to invade. Thankfully, there is no sign of such a development on the horizon.
Colder temperatures this week should get mountains like Sunday River in good shape for holiday skiing and riding. Photo courtesy of Sunday River
So now it’s up to the talents and technology of the mountain crews to provide skiers and riders with a pleasurable surface for the holidays. The groomers will break up the firm surfaces and grind any layer of ice into the base to create loose granular snow. If you are skiing or riding before Christmas, loose granular is the surface that will be most common on the slopes, but starting Monday night, the return of arctic air will deliver temperatures cold enough for some heavy-duty snowmaking.
Once the guns fire up, they will be cranking out crystals round the clock through the entire week, so gradually, surfaces will be transformed to more of a packed powder consistency. By the day after Christmas, the majority of open runs will have been re-surfaced and packed powder will be the dominant surface once again. By next weekend, the snowmakers will get back to the business of opening additional runs.
Now, it would be nice if Mother Nature could make amends for the nasty weather she has delivered the past couple of days by sending along a nice shot of natural snow, but that does not appear to be in the cards. Over the next week or so, a couple of weak systems will run along the U.S./Canadian border and produce a light accumulation of snow in the mountains. The first will come along on Thursday, with another “Alberta Clipper” a good bet next weekend. That disturbance will be followed by another spell of great snowmaking temperatures.
There is some potential for the second system to connect with energy in the southern branch of the jet stream to form a more significant low along the coast, and if that comes to pass, we could be in line for a more significant snowfall. If that storm threat starts to grow, I will address it in my video report on Thursday. In the meantime, the past couple of days could have been much worse for holiday skiing and riding, and conditions will now be improving each and every day this week.Tweet
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.